January 20, 2015

SOTU: Elbridge Colby on Nuclear Policy

By Elbridge Colby

The upcoming State of the Union offers an ideal opportunity for President Obama to underline the U.S. commitment to modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal. While the President began his tenure with a very public embrace of nuclear disarmament, this vision has become increasingly discordant with global reality and the needs of the country. Russia’s recent aggressiveness and ambitious upgrading of its nuclear force, China’s growing assertiveness and daunting military buildup, North Korea’s continuing development of its nuclear arsenal, and Iran’s persisting flouting of the international community all highlight how ill-suited a policy of nuclear abolition is for the United States. Indeed, in a world that is becoming more rather than less dangerous, U.S. nuclear weapons are becoming more rather than less relevant – especially as U.S. conventional military advantages are under increasingly stiff challenge.

It is therefore vital that the United States revamp its nuclear force. The U.S. nuclear deterrent of tomorrow needs to provide for the coming generation and more the same deterrent potency that its aging predecessors have until now.

Yet existing plans for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal are under pressure from disarmament advocates, cost-cutters, and military bureaucracies more interested in conventional than nuclear forces. The President should take this opportunity to signal his Administration’s firm support for a strong program of nuclear modernization, including the full Triad of submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles, as well as the weapons associated with them to provide a survivable, assured, and discriminately usable deterrent. Such a proposal will not only make good policy sense but also offer a chance to work with the new majority in Congress.

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