The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a central piece of legislation for Congress each year. Not only has the NDAA been passed 53 years in a row, it is one of the last remaining bills that enjoys true bipartisan consensus. The annual legislation has been able to rise above the political fray in part because Congress understands the critical need to set defense policies and guidelines for national security. The fiscal year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act will continue in this tradition. The NDAA does, however, face a range of problems. A team of Heritage Foundation national security experts have compiled a set of 10 objectives that Congress should support in the new NDAA…
6. Nuclear Weapons and Missile Defense Policy
U.S. nuclear weapons and missile defense capabilities remain essential in the face of growing ballistic missile threats and other nations’ nuclear weapon capabilities. A modern, flexible, and capable nuclear weapons posture is essential to keeping the U.S. safe, allies assured, and enemies deterred.
In order to improve the U.S. strategic posture, Congress and the Pentagon should:
- Oppose misguided arms reductions. Congress should not provide funding for implementation of agreements that put the U.S. at a disadvantage and that do not benefit U.S. national security—such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which does not provide predictability in U.S.–Russian relations, and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which Russia is violating. Congress should not provide funding for unilateral nuclear weapons reduction efforts while all other nuclear players are modernizing and expanding their arsenals.
- Modernize U.S. nuclear weapons. U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems are aging and investments in them are overdue. If not modernized, the U.S. will soon have inadequate nuclear weapons infrastructure and inadequate nuclear delivery platforms. Further delays increase the overall costs of the programs and leave the U.S. less capable of responding to unexpected developments in the nuclear programs of other nations. Congress must provide the 10 percent increase in additional funding requested by then–Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to address issues plaguing the nuclear enterprise.
- Consider the benefits of yield-producing experiments for the U.S. nuclear weapons program.Conducting very-small-scale, yield-producing experiments would benefit the science that underpins the program, and the U.S. could gain important benefits; indeed, China and Russia are already conducting such experiments.
- Advance a “protect and defend” strategic posture. At the core of today’s more dangerous world is a fundamental asymmetry between the values of the U.S. and the values of its adversaries. While the U.S. values the lives of its citizens, economic prosperity, and institutions, U.S. adversaries value leadership survival above all. The U.S. should develop precise means to credibly threaten that which its adversaries value, and deploy both passive and active defenses to remove the benefits that adversaries might gain by attacking the U.S. or its allies.
- Re-evaluate U.S. strategic nuclear posture. The Pentagon currently bases its nuclear posture on the notion that “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries, and prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically.” In light of Russia’s demonstrated recklessness in Ukraine, this posture is no longer valid.
- Continue to develop a layered, comprehensive missile defense system. The system should be able to address various ranges of ballistic missiles in various threat scenarios. Currently, the U.S. continues to lag behind the ballistic missile threat. Space-based interceptors provide the best opportunity to accomplish these tasks at the best cost-per-interceptor ratio.
- Deploy an X-band tracking radar to a European host nation that is a NATO member. The U.S. has previously determined the Czech Republic to be the ideal country for tracking incoming ballistic missiles from Iran. The radar would improve the capability of U.S. homeland missile defense systems, and it would serve as a visible reminder of U.S. commitment to European security.
- Encourage NATO allies to enhance their ballistic missile and air defense capabilities. Allies can participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defense program in various ways, including making their ships (where applicable) compatible with the U.S. Aegis weapons system.
Nuclear weapons have played, and will continue to play, a significant role in deterring adversaries and assuring allies. Other countries are not only modernizing their arsenals, but also increasing the role that nuclear weapons play in their security strategies. The NDAA is a key tool for advancing a prudent U.S. nuclear posture. Similarly, Congress must ensure that the U.S. is ahead of the ballistic missile threat. A viable missile defense enterprise is the way to do so, as more than 30 nations around the world possess ballistic missiles that can strike the U.S., its allies, and forward-deployed troops within minutes. This leaves a very short time to react and protect what the U.S. values most: its population and economic centers…
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