by Joe Scarry
I was shocked by this sentence in The New York Times four years ago:
“The Pentagon has now told the public, for the first time, precisely how many nuclear weapons the United States has in its arsenal: 5,113. That is exactly 4,802 more than we need.“
(See “An Arsenal We Can All Live With” by Gary Shaub, Jr., and James Forsyth, Jr., May 23, 2010 in The New York Times.)
I was even more shocked when I read the identities of the authors:
Gary Schaub Jr. is an assistant professor of strategy at the Air War College.
James Forsyth Jr. is a professor of strategy at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.
Who are Schaub and Forsyth? Why do they say the U.S. should hold no more than 311 strategic nuclear weapons — less than 1/10 of its current levels?
Anti-nuke? Not by a long shot . . .
Gary Schaub taught at the Air Force Research Institute and Air War College, both at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He is currently a tenured Senior Researcher at the Centre for Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen, where he and his colleagues “conduct research-based consultancy work for the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Defence Committee of Parliament as well as scholarly research on international security issues.”
Here’s James Forsyth, Jr.’s profile from the Air Universitywebsite: “Dr. Forsyth received his PhD in International Studies from the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. While there, he studied international and comparative politics, as well as security studies. He has taught at the Air Force Academy and Air Command and Staff college, where he served as Dean. His research interests are wide ranging and he has written on great power conflict and war.”
Schaub and Forsyth are military experts.
And, in general, they favor the existence — though not the use — of nuclear weapons.
They come right out in their op-ed and say, “The idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world is not an option for the foreseeable future. Nuclear weapons make leaders vigilant and risk-averse. That their use is to be avoided does not render them useless. Quite the opposite: nuclear weapons might be the most politically useful weapons a state can possess.”
Still, they have called for deep cuts in U.S. nuclear weapons.
Doing the math
|Col. B. Chance Saltzman (left)
in his capacity as 460th Operations Group commander
( U. S. Air Force photo/Dennis Rogers, 7/7/2011)
Schaub and Forsyth’s op-ed grew out of a paper: “Remembrance of Things Past : The Enduring Value of Nuclear Weapons”, which they published in conjunction with B. Chance Saltzman (Colonel, USAF) in Strategic Studies Quarterly, Spring 2010.
Even if you are usually unconvinced by the game theory and other heuristics usually relied upon by proponents of nuclear strategy, the “Remembrance” paper is worth reading, because it does something insightful: it points to the degree to which the U.S. (and others) have been constrained by the relatively small arsenals of other countries (e.g. China). They suggest that, in fact, a significantly reduced nuclear arsenal would accomplish deterrence.
In addition, they provide useful discussion of the need to reach reductions by steps — i.e. steps that even those resistant to reductions can swallow.
What is “strategy,” anyway?
If you’re wondering what Schaub and Forsyth have up their sleeve, it may be contained in these sentences:
“We need a nuclear arsenal. But we certainly don’t need one that is as big, expensive andunnecessarily threatening to much of the world as the one we have now.” (emphasis added)
Two little words — “unnecessarily threatening” — go a long way to suggesting why Schaub and Forsyth think the U.S. would be better off with fewer nuclear weapons.
Any advocacy for the elimination of nuclear weapons must sooner or later get around to the specifics of the steps by which we get to zero. U.S. nuclear strategists recognize that 311 is still alarge number of strategic nuclear weapons for the U.S. to hold. Shouldn’t our minimum demand be to get U.S. to this level (or below)?
How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons? How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position — willalways be in the position — to say, “No” ? At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will nevergive up its nuclear weapons, becauseit has the power and the rest of the world doesn’t?
(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))
There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.
(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )
In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons, it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!
(See 5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday )
Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon – a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War – deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.
(See Reviews of “Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom” by Elaine Scarry )
Done correctly, the questioning of physicist “Ash” Carter will allow for one of only two possible conclusions: (A) The continuance of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons renders the U.S. unsafe; OR (B) This Secretary of Defense nominee is not really competent as a physicist, as he claims.
(See ASK THE PHYSICIST: “Ash Carter, are we safe with all those nukes?” )
Other related links
“Even our generals are telling us we have too many nuclear weapons.” Senator Diane Feinstein in the Washington Post, December 3, 2014: “America’s nuclear arsenal is unnecessarily and unsustainably large”