Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told an audience of Air Force personnel, reservist officers, defense industry professionals and congressional staff that a nuclear triad is the most effective strategy to preserve peace and stability in an increasingly dangerous and nuclearized world, particularly with countries like Iran looking to develop and North Korea seeking to expand nuclear weapons capabilities.
Hoeven said the nuclear triad is the bedrock of our national defense, comprising just 2.8 percent of the entire Defense Department budget. "It is, therefore, the most cost-effective part of our defense," he said. "This is a vitally important fact as we look at the nation's budget situation."
Hoeven delivered his remarks Wednesday at the 2013 Peter Huessy Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series, which is sponsored by the Air Force Association, the National Defense Industrial Association and the Reserve Officer Association. The senator's speech, entitled "The Continuing Case for the Nuclear Triad," focused in detail on the seminar's topic of nuclear deterrence.
Over the course of the Cold War, the U.S. developed what came to be known as the nuclear triad: land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, sea-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear capable bombers to deter the massive Soviet nuclear arsenal. Although the nation no longer faces such a massive danger, Hoeven told the crowd that an increasingly complicated array of threats requires the U.S. to leverage the advantages that all three legs of the triad provide.
The senator's remarks were prompted by reports that the Obama administration is reviewing proposals that could unilaterally reduce the nation's strategic nuclear weapons by several hundred warheads. Hoeven also cited the Global Zero report, the product of a non-profit organization that seeks to eliminate all U.S. nuclear weapons, beginning with the immediate abolition of U.S. ICBMs, one leg of the nation's nuclear triad. The other two legs of the triad are the nuclear-armed B-52s and nuclear-armed submarines.
Minot Air Force Base is the only dual wing nuclear-capable base. The 5th Bomb Wing has B-52 bombers. The 91st Missile Wing has Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground facilities in the Minot missile field.
"Though (nuclear missiles) have never been fired, their persistent presence and global reach protect the United States by reassuring our allies and deterring our adversaries," Hoeven said.
He pointed to several reasons for preserving the nation's nuclear deterrence capability:
- Nuclear weapons deter war all kinds of war. Nuclear weapons exist to deter nuclear war. Since they have never been deployed against each other in a nuclear exchange, their deterrent value is clear.
- Nuclear weapons deter conventional conflict as well. In the 30 years prior to the advent of nuclear weapons, 100 million people died in conventional conflicts. The lack of direct conflict between major powers since the advent of nuclear weapons is more than mere coincidence.
- Nuclear deterrence allows the United States to forgo chemical and biological weapons stockpiles while still threatening overwhelming force against anyone inclined to attack us with them.
- Our weapons deter wars away from our shores. Our allies depend on the deterrence our weapons provide. Without the U.S. nuclear umbrella, regional conflicts would become more likely; our non-nuclear allies would likely decide to build their own nuclear weapons.
Russia's and China's nuclear weapons modernization programs are significant concerns, as are the dangers posed by smaller but less stable nuclear powers like Pakistan, North Korea and possibly Iran, the senator said. Unfortunately, conflicts between major powers are also still possible, and the triad remains the most economical insurance policy against future nuclear escalation.
- The president should reject unilateral reductions to the size of nuclear forces below the New START treaty, which reduced the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half. Congress should confront the administration if it attempts to implement such reductions.
- We should reject further legal constraints on our deterrent forces. The Obama administration should not reengage Russia on nuclear issues while New START is being implemented.
- We must maximize the deterrent potential of the forces we will retain under New START. We face a 2017 deadline, and we should not make the required reductions until we have to do so. And those reductions should be achieved in ways that preserve balance and do not hamstring any one leg of the triad.
- We must sustain budgets for the nuclear enterprise and the triad. The administration, as part of the negotiations over New START, agreed to prioritize funding to sustain our warheads and modernize the triad's delivery systems.
The AFA's Peter Hussey Series began in 1983 and routinely features top congressional leaders, senior administration officials and outside experts as guest lectures who speak on timely issues related to strategic nuclear matters, homeland security and missile defense policy and deployment.