On February 12, 2014, BASIC partnered with the ExchangeMonitor to hold a panel discussion on “Extended Deterrence and Assurance” at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Arlington, Virginia, near the Pentagon.
Rebecca Cousins, Program Director, BASIC, moderated the discussion with panelists:
- Paul Ingram, Executive Director, BASIC
- Shmuel Bar, Senior Research Fellow, Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Studies, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa
- Guy Roberts, Senior Principal Consultant, Computer Science Corporation, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary General for WMD Policy, and Director, Nuclear Policy, NATO
The panelists highlighted the challenges facing the United States in reassuring European and Middle Eastern partners amidst dynamic security challenges and ever-tightening defense budgets.
Paul Ingram discussed the United Kingdom’s upcoming decision on Trident renewal and what the debate says about trust in the alliance. There are those in the United Kingdom who have continued to push for full replacement of the current nuclear weapons fleet of four submarines to carry on with Continuous at-Sea Deterrence (CAS-D) into the end of this century, despite the program’s high cost. Proponents have said that full replacement will be necessary for the United Kingdom to sustain an “independent nuclear deterrent”, and to deal with unpredictable threats into the future.
Ingram questioned whether this argument reveals an underlying lack of faith in alliance ties because advocates for the full renewal of an independent nuclear deterrent must have doubts about whether the United States will be there for them during a time of crisis when the use of nuclear weapons might actually be contemplated. This, despite facing a condition of scarce resources that might be better spent on other capabilities that the NATO alliance has said it needs now, and is more likely to need in the future. When these doubts are perceived elsewhere in the world, especially in the Middle East where the role of nuclear weapons is watched closely, the situation makes the United States and the alliance look like weak partners because long-time allies are unable to trust each other and effectively coordinate priorities.
See the full text of Paul Ingram's presentation (PDF) on BASIC's Website.
Shmuel Bar began with expressing his skepticism over the ability of current diplomatic maneuvers to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or at least a breakout capability. He believed this would lead Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons - more easily facilitated by its ability to seek payback from Pakistan for having financially supported that country’s nuclear weapons program.
Presented with this situation, he said that Israel, which has its own (undeclared) nuclear arsenal, will look for ways to bolster its own security as it lacks belief in U.S. extended deterrence. Bar said leaders are doubtful that the United States would retaliate with nuclear weapons against Iran if it used a tactical nuclear weapon somewhere in the region. He added that conventional retaliation would not be viewed as sufficient.
Q & A session: (L-R) Shmuel Bar, Paul Ingram, Guy Roberts
Bar said that motivation for nuclear weapons possession will be driven not only by historical regional insecurity, but also by how certain regimes see themselves as the guardians of major religious groups, and they will seek to balance and compete with one another. With these dynamics, he sees a poly-nuclear Middle East on the horizon. Furthermore, given the absence of second-strike capabilities, there may be a greater propensity for countries to use these weapons before they might lose them. Bar added that the development of command and control mechanisms would take time and depend on the security of the regimes in question, and thus he sees an increasingly dangerous future.
Guy Roberts defended the value of nuclear burden-sharing in the NATO Alliance. He contended that the 2010 Strategic Concept and the two-year Deterrence and Defense Posture Review that followed reaffirmed the importance of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons forward deployed in Europe. He said that nuclear burden-sharing was part of a holistic deterrence posture, which ranged from conventional, nuclear, missile defense, to consequence management capabilities.
Participation by allies in nuclear planning involving U.S. tactical nuclear weapons shows strategic resolve and provides an irreplaceable transatlantic link, according to Roberts. Even though many Western Europeans may be opposed to the nuclear mission, this is part of the political, along with the economic, costs that their governments bear and which further demonstrates their commitment to the Alliance. When asked about replacements to fill a gap should the weapons be removed, he said that no ally has offered a specific replacement that was as widely accepted. Roberts added that weakening the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” could lead to proliferation among allies, and said that this risk may be greatest in Turkey, though the Turks themselves have denied this, pointing to their commitment to the NPT as a responsible non-nuclear weapon state.
The efficacy of extended deterrence continues to be a source of important debate. All three participants agreed that extended deterrence cannot be taken for granted, though there was some disagreement over whether it would continue to provide the level of assurance that has been claimed in the past. Those who claim its continued relevance need to move beyond expressions of belief and more deeply consider its effective elements and consequences.