America’s Strategic Posture

America’s Strategic Posture


For the first time in history, the United States must deter two near-peer nuclear adversaries simultaneously.

Last year, Congress authorized the formation of a commission to conduct a review of the strategic posture of the United States and to make recommendations on how to move forward. Congress then appointed a 12-person bipartisan group to conduct this review. The Report, entitled America’s Strategic Posture, has recently been released.

We present key excerpts and a summary:

The nuclear force of the United States is a small fraction of what it was at the end of the Cold War and the U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons in national military strategy and national security strategy has been substantially reduced.

Key takeaways from the report are as follows:

“The nuclear force modernization program of record (POR) is absolutely essential, although not sufficient to meet the new threats posed by Russia and China.”

“The current modernization program should be supplemented to ensure U.S. nuclear strategy remains effective in a two-nuclear-peer environment.”

“A number of commissioners believe it is inevitable that the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and the number of delivery systems should increase.”

“The size and composition of the nuclear force must account for the possibility of combined aggression from Russia and China. U.S. strategy should no longer treat China’s nuclear forces as a ‘lesser included’ threat. The United States needs a nuclear posture capable of simultaneously deterring both countries.”

“The U.S. theater nuclear force posture should be urgently modified to: Provide the President a range of militarily effective nuclear response options to deter or counter Russian or Chinese limited nuclear use in theater. Address the need for U.S. theater nuclear forces deployed or based in the Asia-Pacific theater.”

“The Commission recommends Congress fund an overhaul and expansion of the capacity of the U.S. nuclear weapons defense industrial base and the DOE/NNSA nuclear security enterprise, including weapons science, design, and production infrastructure. Specifically:` Congress should fund the full range of NNSA’s recapitalization efforts, such as pit production and all operations related to critical materials.”

“The United States develop and field homeland IAMD that can deter and defeat coercive attacks by Russia and China, and determine the capabilities needed to stay ahead of the North Korean threat.”

“The Commission’s assessment is that the United States must consider the possibility that Iran will become a nuclear state during the 2027-2035 timeframe.”

Auctioning the 3.1-3.45GHz band (of spectrum) risks impacting “various types of shipborne, land-based, and aeronautical mobile radar systems [used] for national defense purposes…We have many radars [in the 3.1-3.45 GHz segment] that are critical for our service members to train on before they deploy into harm’s way overseas, and also to protect our homeland . . . it would take us two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to be able to refactor and move those radars out of there.”

The commission recommends “the United States urgently deploy a more resilient space architecture and adopt a strategy that includes both offensive and defensive elements to ensure U.S. access to and operations in space.”

The triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems should be maintained for the immediate future and this will require some difficult investment choices. The same is true for delivery systems of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

On missile defense: Missile defenses can play a useful role in supporting the basic objectives of deterrence, broadly defined. Defenses that are effective against regional aggressors are a valuable component of the U.S. strategic posture. The United States should develop and, where appropriate, deploy missile defenses against regional nuclear aggressors, including against limited long-range threats. These can also be beneficial for limiting damage if deterrence fails. The United States should ensure that its actions do not lead Russia or China to take actions that increase the threat to the United States and its allies and friends.

On declaratory policy: Declaratory policy is a signal of U.S. intent to both friends and prospective enemies and thus an important aspect of the overall strategic posture. To be effective, it must be understood to reflect the intentions of national leadership. While an element of calculated ambiguity remains essential, there should be enough clarity that potential foes will be deterred. The United States should underscore that it conceives of and prepares for the use of nuclear weapons only for the protection of itself and its allies in extreme circumstances.

On the nuclear weapon stockpile: So long as it continues to rely on nuclear deterrence, the United States requires a stockpile of nuclear weapons that are safe, secure, and reliable, and whose threatened use in military conflict would be credible. The Stockpile Stewardship Program and the Life Extension Program have been remarkably successful in refurbishing and modernizing the stockpile to meet these criteria, but cannot be counted on for the indefinite future. The Commission observes that the debate over the proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead revealed a lot of confusion about what was intended, what is needed, and what constitutes “new” and believes that, as the nation moves forward, it must be clear about what is being initiated (and what is not) as well as what makes a weapon “new” and what does not. Alternatives to stockpile stewardship and life extension involve to varying degrees the reuse and/or redesign of components and different engineering solutions. The decision on which approach is best should be made on a type-by-type basis as they age. So long as modernization proceeds within the framework of existing U.S. policy, it should encounter minimum political difficulty. As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States does not produce fissile materials and does not conduct nuclear explosive tests. Also the United States does not currently seek new weapons with new military characteristics. Within this framework, it should seek the possible benefits of improved safety, security, and reliability available to it.

On the nuclear weapons complex: The physical infrastructure is in serious need of transformation. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has a reasonable plan but it lacks the needed funding. The intellectual infrastructure is also in trouble. Redesignating the weapons laboratories as national security laboratories and strengthening their cooperation with the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security and also the intelligence community can help with both of these problems. NNSA has not achieved the original intent of the law that created it; it lacks the needed autonomy. This requires that the NNSA Act be amended to establish NNSA as a separate agency reporting to the President through the Secretary of Energy, along with other provisions aimed at ensuring the needed autonomy.

One of the most important factors will be the imbalance of non-strategic nuclear weapons. In support of its arms control interests and interest in strategic stability more generally, the United States should pursue a much broader and more ambitious set of strategic dialogues with not just Russia but also China and U.S. allies in both Europe and Asia.


Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

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