September 2019: The U.S. Nuclear Posture: Challenges and Issues in Maintaining a Safe and Effective Nuclear Deterrent to Ensure Peace and Strategic Stability

September 2019: The U.S. Nuclear Posture: Challenges and Issues in Maintaining a Safe and Effective Nuclear Deterrent to Ensure Peace and Strategic Stability

September 26, 2019

Speaker: Guy Roberts

   About the Speaker:   

The Honorable Guy Roberts is a National Security and Non-proliferation senior consultant. Until May 2019, he was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, and the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on matters concerning nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs.

Prior to that he was a National Security Consultant and an Adjunct Professor at Mary Washington University and Virginia Commonwealth University, teaching courses on arms control, non-proliferation, counter terrorism and international law. During his long career as a national security expert, he held government positions such as Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy, Director at the Nuclear Policy Planning Directorate for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Principal Director for Negotiations Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Additionally, he served as the legal counsel for arms control and non-proliferation in the US Department of the Navy from 2000-2003. Mr. Roberts also had a distinguished 25-year career in the US Marine Corps before retiring with the rank of Colonel, holding a wide range of assignments in policy formulation, operations and operations support, negotiations, management, litigation and serving as a policy/legal advisor both in the US and during overseas assignments.

Mr. Roberts received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver. He also holds masters’ degrees in international and comparative law from Georgetown University, in international relations from the University of Southern California, and in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College.

   Event Review:    

The United States faces an extraordinarily complex and dangerous global security environment, in which the central challenge to our prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia, which seek to overturn the long-standing rules-based international order and change territorial borders. The recent Nuclear Posture Review is the first to tailor the deterrence posture to the specific threats we see and need to be addressed.

This lecture addressed our current global threat environment, how the NPR addresses it and the challenges it is confronted with. Among the biggest issues is the budget that is necessary for meeting the requirements established by the NPR and which will be determined by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Mr. Roberts also identified gaps in the NPR, especially on non-strategic levels, and summarized the different defense systems that are in the plan, including the strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. The new NPR defines the “extreme circumstance” at which nuclear weapons are permissible, and about which there was much confusion beforehand.

Of course, there is a number of criticisms, one being that this modernization plan is not affordable and should only be implemented in response to specific threats. Another typical critique is that deterrence should be tailored to the opponent and the specific context, however, this NPR does just that, as Mr. Roberts asserted.

Since the Cold War, 85% of nuclear weapons have been reduced. Every administration within the last five decades aimed to have overlapping and flexible deterrence, yet as systems age, questions arise whether we still have the right insurance. More than 30 countries are under our nuclear umbrella and thus the U.S. spends more resources on it than it might otherwise do. Mr. Roberts pointed out that the current modernization plans reflect a continuity due to our inheritance of the Obama administration budget, and there is large bipartisan support for modernization, which is overall deemed important and affordable. He believes that in order to maintain or improve the U.S. nuclear posture, fund simply have to be appropriated, yet such appropriations are not significant relative to our total defense spending.

In response to the second criticism, which is also related to the claim that since the Cold War is over, the nuclear threat is minimal, Mr. Robert assured his audience that the threat has only changed to become more diverse and unpredictable. Briefly discussing arms control policies with Russia, who overall is not a good partner, has violated treaties and has not been open to discuss control of biological or chemical weapons, Mr. Roberts concludes with the administration’s take on the situation: In an unstable world, a position of strength remains the best approach and it must be acknowledged that other countries have not followed the U.S. lead of arms control and do seek whatever advantage can be found.

  Some of our guests’ takeaways:  

  • Interesting fact – we no longer build Nuclear Weapons but re-purpose and keep up to date old ones.
  • The U.S. has been well served by our historical nuclear posture
  • In order to continue to benefit, the U.S. will need to appropriate funds to maintain or improve U.S. nuclear posture, and:
  • such appropriations are not significant relative to total defense spending.
  • We can be optimistic, but much work needs to be done to match the technology the bad guys are fielding.

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