SUMMARY: On July 16, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Dr. James Miller met allies to consult on the US. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and related topics. Permanent Representatives (PermReps) expressed appreciation for the timeliness and depth of the presentation, and asked questions on: how the NPR will affect Nato`s quest for a new Strategic Concept; possible US plans for mounting conventional warheads on strategic ballistic missiles; and deterrence and its importance to the US and Russian governments.
In a July 16 presentation to Nato PermReps and Military Representatives (MilReps), Dr Miller, accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, Dr Bradley Roberts and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation Marcie Ries, filled in allies regarding the parameters and timeline for the NPR.
Following briefings the previous two weeks by Assistant Secretary of Defense Nacht on missile defense (MD) and by Assistant Secretaries of State Gordon and Gottemoeller on Start follow-on treaty negotiations with Russia, Dr Miller`s information placed in context the four Congressionally mandated defense reviews currently under way: The NPR, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Space Posture Review (SPR), and the Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR).
All four reviews will be presented to Congress in Feb 2010 along with the budget submission, and all four were receiving unusually high-level attention. The confluence of the four reviews was regarded in Washington as an opportunity for new thinking in strategic affairs, following the lead of President Obama`s April 5 speech in Prague.
Miller said that, in addition to the President`s Prague call for eventual universal nuclear disarmament through a process of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons while reducing numbers, the US government was also pursuing a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. He said that an essential component to this deterrent posture was extended deterrence, for Nato as well as for other non-Nato allies.
He said that the US was well aware that pursuing such deterrence would require considerable investment over time.
Turning to the Start follow-on negotiations, Dr Miller clarified that negotiations, if successful, would follow a two-phase approach. In the current first phase, deployed strategic warheads and Strategic Delivery Vehicles (SDV) were the subject of ongoing negotiations.
He said that a successful conclusion to those talks would lead at some point to further negotiations on non-deployed strategic, and on non-strategic, nuclear weapons. He then reviewed some of the first-stage negotiating numbers for warheads and delivery vehicles which have been the subject of uninformed media discussion: Strategic warhead limits proposed by the US (1500) and Russia (1675), down from a current range of 1700-2200; and SDV limits of 1100 (U.S) and 500 (Russia), down from the START-mandated level of 1600.
Dr Miller expected further negotiations to narrow these ranges considerably. He added that engaging with Nato allies on the second stage reduction talks would be at least as important as discussions on the first stage, given the importance to the alliance of extended deterrence, nuclear sharing, and related issues. The large disparity in numbers of sub-strategic nuclear weapons — some estimates put Russian totals at 3,000-5,000 plus — will make this a difficult process.
Regarding the NPR, Miller said that a separate two-phase process was under way. The first phase involved a detailed requirements analysis based on current guidance, and on the assumption that Russia would reduce its forces to similar levels as the US This phase moved quickly, in support of the START follow-on negotiating team.
The second phase would not be as time-constrained, and would allow for a fresh look at current strategy, policy and guidance. This phase would be of major importance to extended deterrence, and thus to Nato.
The US nuclear posture would be reviewed against all scenarios (including Russia and China as opponents), including limited and no warning. Multiple force structures would be examined, involving different mixtures of ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers.
He said that a conscious decision had been made during the first phase not to lock in a particular force structure, in order to give the Start follow-on negotiating team maximum flexibility.
In addition, the conclusion had been reached during the first phase that 1500-1700 warheads represented a militarily sufficient level at present, but that at or below 1300, additional risks to military sufficiency and to robustness had to be assumed. He said that future warhead reductions by the Russians would allow the US to consider going lower.
According to Miller, the US currently has 1202 SDV`s accountable under Start, but only 881 are associated with deployable weapons (others are “phantoms”, such as MX or Minuteman silos with no associated missiles.
Dr Miller listed the four key questions associated with the second phase of the NPR:
1) What were the appropriate strategy, policy and guidance for U.S. nuclear forces? 2) What supporting capabilities were required? 3) What supporting nuclear infrastructure was required? 4) What kind of international engagement is called for?
President Obama`s Prague speech and Secretary Gates had provided some guidance for the first question. “Lead and Hedge” was the appropriate mixture for current circumstances: Take the lead in non-proliferation and arms control negotiations (Iran, North Korea, the 2010 review conference for the NPT), while hedging our bets on our way to a nuclear weapon-free world through maintaining a safe, secure and reliable deterrent.