Shifting Nuclear Strategy To Focus On Nuclear Terrorism

nuclear-terrorismIn a reported shift that has the nuclear bureaucracy in the Pentagon up in arms, the President wants the new Nuclear Posture Review – the document that lays out US nuclear strategy to actually focus on the gravest security threat to this country: nuclear terrorism. This would be quite a coup, as the New York Times reported:

The Obama administration’s classified review of nuclear weapons policy will for the first time make thwarting nuclear-armed terrorists a central aim of American strategic nuclear planning, according to senior Pentagon officials. When completed next year, the Nuclear Posture Review will order the entire government to focus on countering nuclear terrorists — whether armed with rudimentary bombs, stolen warheads or devices surreptitiously supplied by a hostile state — as a task equal to the traditional mission of deterring a strike by major powers or emerging nuclear adversaries.

This shift, along with attempting to reduce global nuclear stockpiles, is making many of the Pentagon’s nuclear bureaucrats squirm. See, reducing nuclear arsenals and shifting nuclear strategy away from the Cold War approaches of the past is bad for business. This is not just a strategic debate, it’s a resource debate. The New York Times explains that prioritizing nuclear terrorism in the posture review:

could mean, for example, devoting less money to modernizing bombers, missiles and submarines, and more to surveillance satellites, reconnaissance planes and undercover agents.… So the review is likely to recommend more vigorous intelligence aimed at tracking nuclear smugglers and anticipating terrorist attacks, and more robust actions within the nuclear laboratories to expand abilities to identify nuclear materials in other nations that might be passed surreptitiously to terrorists. All of these efforts could require additional money.

And there is the rub – this “additional money” could be shifted from traditional nuclear weapons programs, leading those entrenched in the nuclear bureaucracy within the Pentagon are pushing back. The Cable reported that the Pentagon’s approach to the NPR amounted to stonewalling, “the Pentagon is said to be against reducing the overall U.S. nuclear arsenal.” The Washington Times quoting a conservative Pentagon source:

The official said nuclear weapons opponents in the Obama administration are seeking to use the NPR to try to advance the president’s goal of making radical cuts in nuclear weapons. Defense and national security officials are advocating a review that will “defend the country,” the official said.

Only to someone so entrenched in a bureaucracy, would an effort to reduce nuclear arsenals and shift our focus to nuclear terrorism constitute “radical.” The only way this would be a “radical” shift is if the President was pushing for unilateral nuclear cuts (which he isn’t) or if it was 1980 and the Soviet Union was still at its zenith. But it is 2010 and the credible threats facing this country don’t involve a nuclear exchange with Russia, but a nuclear terror attack stemming from insecure nuclear stockpiles. 538’s Nate Silver writing in the Wall Street Journal concluded that the hysteria around the underpants bomber was severely misplaced, but that:

a more rational anti-terrorism policy would focus resources heavily, perhaps almost exclusively, on threats of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction terror. The good news is that, because it requires so much coordination to acquire fissile material, build a nuclear weapon, and successfully detonate it, the international community has many opportunities to stop such catastrophes before they occur—although Mr. [Graham] Allison and other experts contend that present efforts are inadequate.