On Thursday, the head of US Strategic Command, Admiral Charles Richard, said the US was violently rewriting its nuclear weapons doctrine.
Americans, he hinted, are not prepared for what might come next. Great power conflict is coming.
The situation, Richard said at a symposium on space and missile defense in Huntsville, is unprecedented in the history of this country. America, he said, has never faced two equal adversaries with nuclear capabilities at the same time, who must be contained in different ways, The Hill reported.
So far, America has applied a universal containment strategy left over from the Cold War. During that period, both the United States and the Soviet Union retained the ability to repeatedly destroy each other. The concept of mutual assured destruction, as it became known, maintained a tense peace.
US officials worry that Russia is using smaller warheads in limited numbers against specific targets rather than unleashing the global thermonuclear war they have feared for decades.
There are serious grounds for concern. Among other reasons, the US does not have the right type of non-strategic weapons. They have nuclear gravity bombs, but Russia knows they are especially vulnerable when stored on the ground or on planes flying through disputed airspace. In addition, there is almost always a long period of time between the issuance of the strike order and the passage of the aircraft over the target.
Moreover, the US Navy needs a new generation of nuclear-tipped short-to-medium-range cruise missiles, largely because various presidents, including the current one, have blocked their development. Congress is trying to rectify the situation, but America is still in the unenviable position of having the wrong type of weapons needed to deter Russia’s use of low-yield warheads. Putin probably believes that the US will not start an all-out thermonuclear war because of a tactical strike.
Kissinger and other analysts have come up with nifty-sounding theories of deterrence, but there’s only one factor that matters: what the adversary thinks. It’s safe to say that containment is failing now because America’s adversaries think no American president will ever promise to launch a megaton-sized weapon to prevent low-yield strikes.