Cancellation of Nuclear Cruise Missile Puts Politics First

Cancellation of Nuclear Cruise Missile Puts Politics First
President Joe Biden meets with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, and Department of Defense leaders, not pictured, to discuss national security priorities, in the State Dining Room of the White House on Oct. 26, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
John Rossomando
Russia threatens Ukraine and Europe with nuclear blackmail. China ramps up its nuclear program. Yet the Biden administration’s revised nuclear strategy (pdf) found in the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) pretends it’s the year 2000 and America is the only nuclear-armed superpower. It eliminates the Sea-Launched Nuclear Cruise Missile (SLCM-N), which President Joe Biden called a “bad idea” in 2019 during the presidential campaign.
Politics replaces military strategy with the new doctrine. It sets eliminating having nuclear weapons as a “hedge against an uncertain future.” Such a statement is concurrent with Biden’s campaign pledge to the Council for a Livable World that the United States doesn't need new nuclear weapons.
Sasha Baker, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, served on the staff of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a supporter of nuclear-weapon reductions; consequently, her role in this decision and recommendation is unsurprising.
“As directed by the president, the NPR has examined opportunities to reduce the role of nuclear weapons while maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent and a credible extended deterrence,” Baker said last March.

The military, however, sees reality instead of politics. Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command that oversees the American nuclear arsenal, told Congress at a hearing last March that the current arsenal isn't adequate to deter potential adversaries such as Russia or China.

“I support reestablishing SLCM-N as necessary to enhance deterrence and assurance,” Richard said in a June letter to Congress. “The current situation in Ukraine and China’s nuclear trajectory have further convinced me a deterrence and assurance gap exists.”

Having a low-yield nuclear cruise missile gives the president of the United States options to respond to limited nuclear strikes by a hostile power. As things stand, the president’s only option is either doing nothing or an all-out launch of the nation’s strategic nuclear arsenal that would lead to Armageddon. Doing nothing following a hostile nuclear attack against the United States or its allies would risk additional nuclear strikes by the hostile attacker.

“Such a capability not only would provide a credible and survivable option for extended deterrence in Europe, but also would bolster deterrence and assurance in the Pacific,” former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld wrote in 2017.
The Trump administration decided to revive the deployment of nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missiles in 2018 after the Obama-Biden administration retired the Tactical Land Attack Missile (TLAM-N) from the Navy’s arsenal in 2013.
The Biden administration’s 2022 National Defense Strategy acknowledges the China threat (pdf):

“The PRC’s [People's Republic of China's] increasingly provocative rhetoric and coercive activity towards Taiwan are destabilizing, risk miscalculation, and threaten the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. This is part of a broader pattern of destabilizing and coercive PRC behavior that stretches across the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and along the Line of Actual Control. The PRC has expanded and modernized nearly every aspect of the PLA [People's Liberation Army], with a focus on offsetting U.S. military advantages. The PRC is therefore the pacing challenge for the Department.”

The whole purpose of having non-strategic nuclear weapons is to have a knife that can be placed at the throat of a nuclear-armed enemy to deter them from using nuclear weapons first.

Scrapping the nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missile that has been opposed by the military is an unforced error.

China currently has a wide range of nuclear delivery systems ranging from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), to sea-launched ballistic missiles, to nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicles. Mounting SLCM-N’s on submarines and surface ships would be a reminder to the Chinese that their military installations within 1,500 miles of their coast would be subject to nuclear attack should they use such weapons.

China threatened Japan and Australia with nuclear annihilation last year. Russia continues to saber rattle using its own similar tactical nuclear arsenal against Ukraine and America’s NATO allies.

NATO nuclear weapons in Europe currently require allied pilots to penetrate sophisticated Russian air defenses. Having a cruise-missile capability would save the lives of human pilots who would have to brave these defenses. The SLCM-N would remind Vladimir Putin that his nuclear threats would be met in kind, stopping short of an all-out nuclear exchange.

The Biden administration’s desire to eliminate the SLCM-N received criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

In the age of a nuclearizing China and a belligerent nuclear Russia, a future of nuclear-fueled gangsterism and blackmail is evident. The threat of mutually assured destruction is the only thing that has kept the world from being embroiled in nuclear war. Dropping the SLCM-N undermines the ability of the United States and its allies to deter nuclear gangsterism on the part of Russia and China.

The Biden administration should listen to Richard’s warning. It should reconsider because, as he said (pdf) in 2021 congressional testimony, “Without this capability adversaries may perceive an advantage at lower levels of conflict that may encourage limited nuclear use.”
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
John Rossomando is a senior analyst for defense policy at the Center for Security Policy and served as senior analyst for counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years.
Related Topics