Russian and Chinese leaders see their relationship with the United States much differently than the U.S. does, says a former government official who is an expert on arms control policy and international security.
"Both sets of leaders give the United States as the principal adversary, and say so," said Bob Joseph. "They say so directly... Both also have entirely different views on the role of utility of nuclear weapons."
Joseph, who is originally from Williston, worked on arms control policy with both the State Department and the National Security Council during the George W. Bush presidency. He now is a senior fellow at the National Institute for Public Policy in Fairfax, Va.
Joseph spoke May 3 at the nuclear triad symposium, The Enduring Requirement of Deterrence" held in Minot. Participants also visited Minot Air Force Base's Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile and B-52 bomber facilities May 2.
The Minot base is the only base with two legs of the nuclear triad ICBMs and bombers. The Navy has submarine-launched ballistic missiles the third leg of the triad.
Joseph said both Russia and China are expanding and modernizing their nuclear forces.
"Russia, in fact, relies more heavily on nuclear weapons today than during the Cold War and a large part to compensate for its weaknesses in conventional forces," he said.
He said China is developing new capabilities across the board.
Joseph said the bottom line is not that conflict with Russia and China is inevitable. "It's not that we are once again locked in a Cold War. The bottom line is that there are many strategic uncertainties," he said, adding that the U.S. doesn't know the direction of its relationship with Russia or China.
"Mr. Putin, who I've met personally, is a man of determination and his pursuits will not always coincide with the United States' best interests. This is, once again, an understatement from my observations," Joseph said.
"We know that Moscow and Beijing think differently than we do. We know they place a high value on nuclear weapons," he said.
He said the U.S. needs to pay attention to these countries in deterrence in defense planning.
He referred to a quote by the late President John F. Kennedy: "We have to have a nuclear posture that is second to none." Joseph said it is essential for a stable deterrence. "But also because we need to assure our allies of the reliability of our secure commitments," he said.
Joseph said the U.S. allies more than 30 of them are relying on the nuclear guarantee from the U.S. for their security.
As there's talk by the Obama administration of the U.S. going to numbers of nuclear weapons below what is called for in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and the Russian Federation, Joseph said the U.S. allies know what is going on. "They know about the rusting of our infrastructure, they know about the political debates," he said.
"What they're doing is they're becoming much more direct with us about the importance of our nuclear posture to them. They're very direct, and they're calling in to question credibility of our deterrent posture as we move to lower numbers," he said.
"If the U.S. arsenal is seen as too small, our allies will see the U.S. commitment as lacking credibility and be under pressure to acquire their own nuclear weapons. And this process very clearly can already be seen emerging," Joseph said.
He said South Korea wants the U.S. to return tactical nuclear forces to Korea and also wants an independent nuclear capability.
He said the same is growing with other allies and friends
"Some allies are becoming increasingly explicit about their fears regarding the credibility of the U.S. commitment to their security, even the British prime minister who was recently quoted as saying 'how long can Great Britain continue to rely on the United States? It can't continue indefinitely,' was his answer," Joseph said.
"An arsenal that is too small and does not take allied perceptions and requirements into account will inspire these allies to seek their own nuclear solutions to the mounting WMD (weapons of mass destruction) threats that they face," he said.
"From a proliferation perspective, I think it's essential that we have forces that are flexible and diverse because our forces are the No. 1 nonproliferation instrument that we have in terms of our policy objectives. They allow us this flexibility and diversity to adapt our strategies our deterrent strategies to a variety of known and unknown threats in the future. Some adversaries may be deterred in the future by nonmilitary threats, some by nonnuclear conventional capabilities, but some may only be deterred by nuclear capabilities.
He noted that Russia goes up in nuclear weapon numbers under START and the U.S. goes down. "How's that for a great arms control reduction rate?" he asked. "We reduce, they go up. And that was known before ratification, and the Russians have made it very clear that they are going up up to the START levels."
"China has gone up. We all know what North Korea has been doing. India and Pakistan Pakistan is manufacturing as many nuclear weapons as far as they can," he said.
"There's no single approach to deterrence that will work in all situations and there's no single deterrent capability that will be adequate," Joseph said.
"It's the U.S. triad that provides the diversity of platforms that are required," he said.