A Changing Nuclear Threat

Minot AFB, N.D. While there isn’t a looming threat of a nuclear exchange between global powers, the threat of nuclear attacks is still high and in different ways that the US must be prepared for, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday. While visiting missileers and B-52 crews at Minot AFB, N.D., Carter said there is a reality that potential nuclear adversaries, such as Russia or North Korea, could take an “unwise resort to smaller but still unprecedentedly terrible attacks” as a means to coerce a conventionally superior opponent to back off or abandon an ally during a crisis. This threat is growing following recent activity by Russia, such as its 2014 incursion into Ukraine. “We cannot allow that to happen, which is why we’re working with our allies in both regions to innovate and operate in new ways that sustain deterrence and continue to preserve strategic stability,” Carter said during a troop event at Minot.

In Europe, Carter said the US and NATO is “refreshing” its nuclear playbook to integrate conventional and nuclear deterrence “to ensure we plan and train like we’d fight.” This includes the basing of B-61 and dual-capable fighter aircraft at bases across the continent. “Moscow’s recent saber-rattling and building of new nuclear weapons systems raises serious questions about its leaders’ commitment to strategic stability,” Carter said. The US needs to make needed investment now, because while the military was avoiding serious spending on its nuclear infrastructure since the end of the Cold War, other countries have increased spending. “We didn’t build new types of nuclear weapons or delivery systems for the last 25 years, but others did, at the same time that our allies in Asia, the Middle East, and NATO did not, so we must continue to sustain our deterrence.” While Carter called out Russia and North Korea for its unprofessional actions, he said some countries have “shown responsible behavior,” including India, Pakistan, and China. Iran, even, has constrained its nuclear aspirations under the recent nuclear accord that “as long as it continues to be implemented, will verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”