Minot Air Force Base has long been home to B-52 bombers and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, the latter in underground facilities in several counties.
Those two legs of the nuclear triad have brought about 100 people to Minot from across the country for a nuclear triad symposium, "Sustaining the Triad: The Enduring Requirement of Deterrence."
The event is being hosted by the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce and Task Force 21, Minot's base retention committee.
On Thursday, participants toured the B-52 and Minuteman III facilities at Minot AFB. Today, the symposium sessions, with a number of presenters, will be held in the Grand International Inn.
Peter Huessy, president of GeoStrategic Analyis, his own defense consulting firm in Potomac, Md., said of the purpose of the symposium:
"We want to connect the policy community of D.C., and around the country with the people who man the missiles, who man the bombers and the submarines and to make us all one community."
Huessy arrived in Minot Wednesday. A previous symposium was held last September in Washington, D.C.
Besides in Washington, future symposiums will be planned for other sites including Malmstrom AFB at Great Falls, Mont., F.E. Warren AFB at Cheyenne, Wyo., the Nuclear Weapons Center in Albuquerque, Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB, La., Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay at Bangor, Wash., and possibly at Whiteman AFB, Mo.
The Navy's submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the third leg of the triad.
He said the symposiums will be held in these areas "as a community of people work together to promote, sustain and try to modernize the triad, and to make a connection between the thousands of people who work on the base, who sustain the base and who are critical to our deterrent, and let them know that we remember them because they are there."
Huessy has hosted more than 1,700 congressional seminars on Capitol Hill in past years.
In regard to why there should be nuclear weapons, he said, "Very simple. We have nuclear weapons to stop anybody from using nuclear weapons against us or our allies. Period.
"Second, is we have nuclear weapons to stop the use of chemical, biological or even conventional forces against the United States and its allies, and that deterrent particularly, I emphasize, the key is that we never want to see these weapons used, and we've done that now for over half a century.
"The deterrence has been perfect. That's a pretty extraordinary achievement, and and it's been achieved by the people here at Minot, Malmstrom, F.E. Warren and around the country who man and sustain and modernize the force," Huessy said.
Huessy's response to those who say they don't believe in nuclear weapons, is: "We could ask North Korea, we could ask Pakistan, we could ask China to get rid of their nuclear weapons and they've already given us their answer." He said Kim Jung-il, the former leader of North Korea, when asked, "Are you going to give up your nuclear weapons?" said, 'You first.'
He said it's a nice idea but it can't work unless it can be verified.
Huessy said the problem is not America's deterrent, but the problem is the proliferation of weapons in countries like Iran and Korea, and the fact that they get help from countries like China.
"Our deterrent basically is the best nonproliferation policy in the world," he said.
"Extended deterrence means our umbrella is over our friends. They don't have to build nuclear weapons. That's an enormous benefit to the world," Huessy said.
He said reductions should serve a purpose and that purpose should be fourfold:
It should buy more stability, meaning in a crisis no one reaches for the nuclear weapon, no one reaches for that nuclear gun in the holster.
It should strengthen extended deterrence. "meaning this country's allies feel comfortable that we've got their back and they don't have to go to nuclear weapons...
It should give the president of the United States flexibility that the president does not have to ever use these weapons. That he has the flexibility and has an insurance policy of knowing this is a backstop. "You can't do that if the force is not creditable and modern and sustainable," Huessy said.
The fourth things is, and most importantly, in a crisis it has to buy the president time, and it does. "There's no need for the president of the United States to act quickly, promptly or rashly with respect to nuclear weapons," Huessy said.
He said the annual investment cost of modernizing the bomber, ICBM and submarine leg of the triad is roughly $11 billion to $12 billion a year between 2013-2023. In 2009, the U.S. was probably spending $7 billion a year. ICBMs are $500 million to $800 million of that per year.
Huessy said the amount for modernizing the three legs of the triad is about the same amount Americans spend on movies every year $10 billion in 2008-2009.
Huessy said, in his view, nuclear weapons will be part of North Dakota for 50 years or more. He said the nation has invested in the missile silos, the infrastructure is there, and people are trained for the job. "Why would you give that up when in fact it's the most stabilizing part of your deterrent?" he said.
"I think the (Minot) base is going to be there certainly through my lifetime and the lifetime of the people born yesterday at the local Minot hospital," Huessy said.
He said the nuclear business is a must have business. "It's a business that if done right keeps the peace. And that nuclear umbrella, of which it is part, has kept the world's major powers from going to armed conflict," he said, although he said the Russians have fought in different ways.
"Each leg has very different and common attribute the combination of which you can't duplicate with just one," Huessy said.
He said the B-52s are nuclear capable but also conventional bombers.
The B-52 is expected to remain flying for some time. Besides Minot AFB, B-52s are based at Barksdale AFB.
Huessy said work is just starting on building a bomber.
"We're building a new bomber now and I think it's going to be at Whiteman and it's going to be at Barksdale and it will be at Minot," he said.
He said Congress insisted before providing the first funding to start the work on a new bomber that the bomber has to be nuclear capable.
Huessy said the whole point of the symposiums held in Minot, Washington, D.C., and to be in other sites "is to build a census that a modernized triad is critical , that we have to have a force second to none, a force that increases stability and a force that is cost effective. And all of that is basically what the plan is currently going forward. There is some uncertainties but the hope is we'll work those out."