BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

NUCLEAR ARMS RACE

June 08, 2020 Dana Lewis Season 1 Episode 9
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
NUCLEAR ARMS RACE
Chapters
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
NUCLEAR ARMS RACE
Jun 08, 2020 Season 1 Episode 9
Dana Lewis

American President Donald Trump recently boasted about a new "super duper missile". 
While Russia President Vladimir Putin talked of his Countries superior nuclear forces.
Russia has now changed it\s nuclear doctrine to include the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict with NATO.   And China too is stepping up production of nuclear stockpiles.
Nuclear arms control agreements are expiring and unravelling.  A NEW ARMS RACE has begun.

British Rear Admiral John Gower, CB OBE, served, until his retirement in December 2014, as Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Nuclear & Chemical, Biological) in the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).  And Christine Parthemore is Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR).  Both join us on BACK STORY with Dana Lewis to discuss the increasing dangers of nuclear weapons.

Show Notes Transcript

American President Donald Trump recently boasted about a new "super duper missile". 
While Russia President Vladimir Putin talked of his Countries superior nuclear forces.
Russia has now changed it\s nuclear doctrine to include the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict with NATO.   And China too is stepping up production of nuclear stockpiles.
Nuclear arms control agreements are expiring and unravelling.  A NEW ARMS RACE has begun.

British Rear Admiral John Gower, CB OBE, served, until his retirement in December 2014, as Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Nuclear & Chemical, Biological) in the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).  And Christine Parthemore is Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR).  Both join us on BACK STORY with Dana Lewis to discuss the increasing dangers of nuclear weapons.

Speaker 1:

Hi everyone. I'm Dana Lewis and this

Speaker 2:

is backstory.

Speaker 3:

We'll have to develop those weapons unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, let's really get smart. And let's none of us develop those weapons.

Speaker 4:

No other country in the world has this kind of Arsenault. Russia still has the greatest potential in the world. Nobody listened to us. Now, listen,

Speaker 2:

we interrupt our programming. This is a national emergency.

Speaker 5:

They call it the super duper missile. You've heard. Russia has five times and China's working on five or six times. We have one 17 times, 17 times faster. If you can believe that a general it's something right

Speaker 2:

in this edition of backstory eat is already an arms, race, nuclear launch buttons in the hands of world leaders. One of them, Donald Trump, who doesn't even seem to understand what he's been briefed on, but boasting anyway, his missile is faster than Russia or China's, it sounds humorously, adolescent, but this is serious and dangerous. And there is nothing good to say about more nuclear arms. The Kremlin has now come up with a policy paper called nuclear deterrence policy guidelines, spelling out the principles of Moscow's deterrent, strategy, escalation for de escalation. What on earth does that mean? Well, the headline is that in the event of a military conflict, nuclear deterrent should prevent the escalation of hostilities and allow their termination on conditions, acceptable to Russia and its allies. In other words, should Russian forces face the prospect of being defeated in a conflict with NATO, it would use tactical nuclear weapons. And this is key arms control agreements are being abandoned by mr. SuperDuper missile himself, Donald Trump

Speaker 6:

joining me now, John Gower is a rear Admiral who served the last three years until his retirement in 2014 as the assistant chief of defense staff overseeing nuclear chemical biological in the UK ministry of defense and Christine part, the more is chief executive officer of the council of strategic risks. And Christine has experienced in countering weapons of mass destruction, including within the us department of defense. Christine, if I can start with you, the council on strategic risks builds itself as a nonprofit nonpartisan security policy Institute devoting to devoted, to anticipating and analyzing and addressing are alarm bells ringing off the wall right now, because it seems like security risks are increasing in all directions.

Speaker 7:

Absolutely. Um, though, this didn't start, uh, recently, uh, we actually, uh, stood up the council on strategic risks in part because I and our board members and many colleagues, including Emerald Gower, uh, were, uh, when I left government. And then in a years, a couple of years immediately after increasingly concerned, even even in 2015, 2016.

Speaker 8:

And so we stood up the council to all put our efforts toward that obviously between coronavirus and rising concerns of biological weapons threats and what appears to be a fully embracing arms racing mentality, um, by our country and several others on the nuclear side, uh, we think our work is more important than ever. Unfortunately,

Speaker 6:

just the past few weeks, president Trump has talked about walking away from the open skies agreement. Uh, John, maybe you want to take that because a lot of people are confused, but essentially it allows flights over other countries and over Russia with some 30 year European countries, supposedly to build confidence in security arrangements, what does it mean when you take it away or cancel it?

Speaker 2:

Well, it's a confidence building measure and it's been in place it's part of the broad range of non-nuclear security and confidence building measures that were set up at the end, largely at the end of the cold war though, they proceeded the fall of the Berlin wall, some of them, um, which were designed to reduce tension through openness. It does what it says on the scale on the can open skies is a collaborative program between fundamentally the European and NATO nations and Russia and its allies to overfly on planned routes that are preordained in advance. I must say that president Trump's position is most confused. And from a personal point of view, he started off his administration by, by playing down the importance of the U S position in the, in, in Europe. In fact, he made noises about NATO, not being very much to his taste, and it's only the European force is of the U S that are being flown over. So I think, I think, uh, I, I'm confused by the position. I'm really distressed by another, um, pull away by the U S I think it's pretty, pretty certain. Now

Speaker 6:

you're distressed by that. Then you must be, uh, you know, I shouldn't use the word ballistic, but you, you must be a apoplectic. Uh, when they talk about the strategic arms reduction control treaty, that's due to expire next year. And president Trump has said, it's a bad deal.

Speaker 2:

Well, I think, I think actually people underestimate the conventional arms Streeters and that confidence building. They're the bedrock, they're the foundation upon which the sort of trust that's necessary to do nuclear arms control the news reduction of based. So you cannot really have successful arms control in the nuclear domain. If you are distrustful in the conventional domain, it just doesn't work that way. But I'm extremely distressed in 2012, I think was the height point in 2012, we had, uh, we had negotiated a stall was going well. We were looking at the next start. There were solid discussions in both Moscow and Washington at further reductions of strategic arms. Inf had a few, the intermediate nuclear range, intermediate range, nuclear force, the streets, you had a few kinks and binds, but by and large, it was holding and it was good. And the direction of travel was in a positive. Uh, and as part of that, and very shortly afterwards, uh, there was unprecedented, uh, cooperation initially between Russia and the U S and then a whole range of countries in the, uh, removal and destruction of serious chemical weapon program and major, uh, weapons of mass destruction removal. So in sort of 2012 to 2014, everyone in the arms control world was in a positive frame of mind. I'm afraid like Christine, every indicator has been rapidly, downhill and dangerously. So in some areas since then,

Speaker 6:

Christine, what's your take on start trust, but verify, I mean, when we started,

Speaker 2:

okay,

Speaker 6:

arms control agreements with the Soviet warheads were numbering 30 and 40,000 on either side. Now we're down to about 1500 warheads, largely because of the strategic arms control reduction treaty start one and start two. And now Trump says it's a bad deal.

Speaker 8:

Yeah. And in addition to those, some of the unilateral measures that the United States and others had the really positive vision of, of taking an eliminating additional weapons on our side, uh, yeah, it's a dire situation. Um, just when we think that it can't get worse, it seems to get a little bit worse, uh, every few months, unfortunately, um, our take on new start, um, personally I, uh, extending it would be the best thing we could possibly do for our security and for that for our NATO partners and other friends around the world, um, walking away from stabilization measures like that, um, it's just, it's cutting off our own, our own security. Uh, it's, it's really detrimental in so many ways, as John said, the, the trust level, um, is decreasing. And that's exactly when you need things like this, um, verification measures in conventional or nuclear arms agreements, technical exchanges, scientist to scientist exchanges, things like that, that when, when the political level of discourse among countries is really, really strange that technical cooperation can go a really long way in preserving, uh, what little open lines of communications we still have, um, and leading the path back toward further cooperation, further mutually beneficial, um, security arrangements down the road.

Speaker 8:

Uh, the more we get rid of trees, the fewer of those openings, we have

Speaker 6:

U S president Donald Trump's arms control negotiator told the think tank the other day that the U S has prepared to spend Russia and China into oblivion in order to win a new nuclear arms race. I mean, I, I have to scratch my head and I said, it sounds like Ronald Reagan talking about the star Wars program. It is a very different chapter in history right now.

Speaker 8:

Yeah. It's, you know, there may be people in the political leadership right now who intend to spend, uh, spend Russia into oblivion, a nuclear weapons, but I don't think the American people, uh, or even the majority in Congress would support that we already have a modernization program for our nuclear forces that, um, I believe oversteps what we need to maintain a deterrent, um, and still be credible with the international community that we still take seriously, our commitments to walk towards eventual disarmament under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and other things that we've pledged to under democratic and Republican administrations for decades. Uh, we need to go back in that direction and that, um, I think believe many analysts, uh, queen people who are advocates for very strong defense budgets, uh, like myself still believe that you need to have a much more balanced approach than we currently do, uh, for our nuclear weapons program. All this reckless spending is just another sign that, um, they believe that in arms, there are people in the United States who believe that an arms racing mentality, uh, matching everything that Russia and other countries do tit for tat is our only way to secure our interest. And that's, that's obviously just not true.

Speaker 6:

John, is there some wisdom in what the current white house is proposing? And that is what's the point of signing an arms control agreement or an extension with Russia? Again, when a lot of people feel that China is becoming the real threat and that we are on the verge of a cold war,

Speaker 2:

um, I find it really difficult to find any wisdom from the white house in the last 15 months. So it's a, it's challenging in this area as well. I think firstly, the statement that you're going to spend Russia and China into oblivion, any statement that includes oblivion is clearly not sensitive to the issues surrounding arms control and mutual existence. The whole point of deterrence and arms control is to continue mutual existence. And I think whether you're spending it or don't yet oblivion is not a word that should ever be used in relation to, to nuclear weapons. And I share my share. Christine is concerned about start, but I share it from a slightly different viewpoint. I've never believed well, certainly not. In the last 15 years that strategic weapons are the risks. Strategic weapons are the sort of last ditch risks, but there's many risks before that.

Speaker 2:

And the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty was far, far more important than start in terms of preventing the most likely path into a nuclear exchange. And so whilst the restriction and reduction of ballistic strategic ballistic missiles remains important, the Wolf much closer to the sled is the twin track of a nuclear armed cruise missiles and other easier to use missiles and new abilities designed to circumvent strategic parity, like hypersonic missiles and other things, and led on top of that, if you don't mind me layering is the increased rhetoric, which implies that both Moscow and Washington seemed far more comfortable with the concept of the use of these weapons in conflicts at all levels. And finally led on top of that or the other risks that the nations face, the climate change effect and what that will have on nation States, the risk of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and a whole host of other 21st century risks that just simply were not there when the nuclear domains were written.

Speaker 2:

And it is those risks that pile on top of each other that makes the need to move down a path of trust and reduction as soon as possible and to deflate the rhetoric of the last resort. But Christine, the doctrines have changed both within the United States and Russia, that they are not now considered a last weapon of resort, but in fact that they could be used in the contemplation of a limited nuclear exchange, correct. Sorry, can I, can I come in Dana here? Because what I was saying is that strategic ballistic missiles on submarines and in silos remain the weapons of last resort. These weapons are unlikely even in a limited exchange to be the ones that you use. It is the weapons in dual capable bombs, nuclear armed gravity bombs, jewel capable, cruise missiles in submarines and perhaps ships and definitely aircraft. These weapons that are designed to be limited range, the weapons that would breach the inf treaty, where it's still in existence, these weapons that feed the mindset of a potential limited war. So I was not saying all nuclear weapons are weapons of last resort. What worries me is these new sets and old sets rejuvenated they're being seen as something other than weapons of last resort. And if you focus solely on long range, ballistic, strategic start weapons, you're missing the most dangerous, sorry, Christine, I didn't mean to jump in front of you, but I didn't want to be misinterpreted.

Speaker 8:

No, I think that's, that's perfect. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say, but these questions are obviously intimately related. So in the United States, um, it actually started during the Obama administration. You started to see more and more rhetoric, um, even publicly from defense officials and others who focused on our nuclear issues here in this country, starting to talk about things like restoring deterrence with the limited use of nuclear weapons usually referred to in a North Korea type of scenario that they were referring to. Um, but other other scenarios involving Russia, um, European territory and things like that as well. So this rhetoric and the increasing blurring of conventional and nuclear deterrence and the doctrine supporting, um, supporting a posture of having a believing that something like limited nuclear warfare is even seasonable has been creeping more and more into our defense thinking. Um, even before the Trump administration took over, though, the nuclear posture review that they conducted under this Trump administration, obviously accelerated that thinking and embedded that, that doctrine more, more and more solid way in us policy.

Speaker 6:

I don't think, sorry to jump in, but I don't think the public can even digest that because I certainly can't. In what situation do the planners either in, in Moscow or in Washington, think they could have a limited nuclear exchange of some kind?

Speaker 8:

Well, I don't agree that it's feasible either, but human beings can convince themselves of all sorts of things. Uh, unfortunately, um, there, there are lines of rationale. Uh, if you can call it that in deterrence theory, that believes that you, if you can cause certain amounts of damage, including bypassing the nuclear threshold, that you will, depending on the forces of your opponent and the situation and whatever conflict is ensuing, that you could use nuclear weapons to a certain extent, uh, and the country X has been attacked. We'll just start backing off, uh, or sort of downgrade the conflict and come back to the negotiating table, uh, or at least move the conflict back to solely the conventional realm. I completely disagree. Um, the, this is a sound way of thinking about anybody's security for any country.

Speaker 6:

Is that a fringe way of thinking John, or is that mainstream? I mean, you've been in these planning rooms and running, you know, war games, I guess, on nuclear, different thresholds. When, when the alarm bells started going off, I mean, seriously, is that mainstream planning, a limited exchange?

Speaker 2:

Um, I think it has always been part of nuclear planning for countries with very flexible and variable nuclear weapons platforms. And I particularly talk about the triumphs that exist in the former Soviet union now Russia, and in the United States, uh, if you're going to generate a weapon system that fits a flexible mindset, you have to maintain a flexible mindset. If you keep that weapon system going on, the United Kingdom had all of these weapons available to it. At some point during its nuclear history. Now we have got rid of all of them and we only retained strategic weapons, held at the prime minister's express and sole permission to launch in RSSP. And as we got rid of the weapons, we got rid of the mindset, we got rid of the generations who had that in their mindset. And no one who's currently involved has that anywhere near their thought planning.

Speaker 2:

And there is no planning going on. However, if you have the weapons, you must conduct planning to use them otherwise. Why do you have them? So throughout your body politic, whether it is highly visible as it is now, or lowly visible as it was perhaps during the previous administration, there is always been a Carder of people who must think they're going to use these weapons because they are training people to go out and do them every today. And so, and so until you re reduce the number and type of weapons, you will never move this kind of mindset. And speaking as a European, my biggest challenge with this mindset is it is entirely feasible. If you sit in Moscow or in Washington, when you talk about these limited war concert Epps, even in, in, uh, in, in your internal discussions, essentially, that's a code for fighting a nuclear war in Europe. And I think when you, when you have the potential, when your mind has the potential and your capability has the weapons to exchange weapons that fall on neither of your homelands, that kill very few of your civilian population, let's set aside all of those in Europe who do not directly affect your homelands. I think human nature is such that the threshold of use in those circumstances is less than that, where your own Homeland, your own capital and your own lives are, um, are at risk.

Speaker 6:

Uh, Christine, can I just very quickly ask you, because we're talking about all these different weapons, whether they be a nuclear equipped cruise missiles, which could be mistaken in a conventional exchange of missiles, suddenly somebody thinks they're under nuclear attack. Trump has now bragging about a new, super duper, a weapon to use his words, a hypersonic weapon of some kind, these seem like dangerous additions to the arms, right?

Speaker 8:

Absolutely. And this, again, circles back to what John was saying as well, you know, when whatever our doctrine or our official declaratory policies are, what other countries see and what really shapes our attitude about how these weapons can be used, both for deterrence, but also potentially in conflict comes down to the types of, of specific capabilities that you're developing. Uh, and we're seeing just a, another racing mentality on this. So, uh, we had gotten rid of certain types of nuclear arm, Christmas littles, a submarine launched, for example, um, and had seemed to be pivoting away from air launch, a nuclear armed cruise missiles in the United States. We've pivoted back wholly in those directions, basically just saying, we'll rush is doing this. So we need to match them tit for tat, which is not a very sophisticated strategy. Ultimately, um, you're seeing the same in hypersonics.

Speaker 8:

I don't know what super duper missiles are. I don't think anybody in the world does, he may have been hinting at hypersonics, but I'm really badly mistaking the details, uh, whatever, whatever the missiles are, the types and different, different variety of capabilities that you're building into the system. Again, shapes, planning, and shapes, how people think about these weapons in a political way. And this is where we're getting into a more and more dangerous cycle, both within our country. And then with regard to Russia and China and others as well. They also, some of these new types set off different alarm bells for, for our potential adversaries as well. So some of the concern about China is overblown. Some of it's very, very legitimate, but we need to recognize that when we're building an additional new capabilities to us weapons systems that are publicly known to any other country countries like China, for which having a second strike capability is really core to their nuclear doctrine.

Speaker 8:

And also why they have curtailed their own programs in terms of developing a more, a wider range of different nuclear capabilities, or really ratcheting up the numbers, uh, way, way higher than they, than they have to date. Um, but that they're certainly capable of, uh, when countries like the United States start adding these new, uh, new capabilities, um, uh, such as, uh, hypersonic, certainly. But, um, again, for our, from my perspective, I think I air launched nuclear capable cruise missiles, where, you know, incoming to a country such as China, it's not, it would not be clear if they were conventional or nuclear until they landed whatever we do going forward, getting back from this. Um, and again, pertains to new start. New start should be kept for sure, but it's not sufficient. Um, we have, for years now needed to start working on what can future arms control agreements potentially look like, um, that may include other countries.

Speaker 8:

Uh, they may not even involve the United States. You could see different potential options being, uh, stabilizing, um, in South Asia, for example, that might not necessarily need to involve the United States. Um, but we need to start thinking about, uh, from our perspective, all of us, you want to curtail this behavior. We need to start developing options for future arms control arrangements that would target these especially dangerous capabilities that the United States and others have been building into their nuclear arsenals, uh, and kind of taking an approach that way. Again, similar to inf focused on the types of weapons that are most likely to be accidentally used or misunderstood or trigger a miscalculation or drive this sort of, we can escalate it and then go back mentality among our countries.

Speaker 6:

So you're all, you're all ex insiders. You understand the need for arms control. You believe in it. You are now dedicating your time to speaking out about it around the world. But if the American president is pushing an arms race and promoting an arms race, let's take him at his word. Maybe it's just his negotiating position. How do you go around the president of the United States or, or pull him somehow with you, uh, to get them to understand, look, this is getting critical. This is getting extremely dangerous. And we need like a new, some of the things you guys have written about proposed codes of responsibilities and finding new mechanisms to bring the temperature down. You're absolutely right. I think that the rhetoric is important. I'm using words like super duper. When you're talking about nuclear arms, it's just unhelpful. It belongs in kindergarten and not at the negotiating table. I think the,

Speaker 2:

the, the necessity to have as a central concept, that you can achieve your security without a central reliance upon nuclear weapons is a tenant that needs to be reignited. It existed at the moment of greatest hope, which for me was said was around 2012. It has since been buried once more. So the salience of nuclear weapons in it has got to be reduced. And I think that the single most effective way today as we sit today is goes circles round to your spending to oblivion comment. COVID-19 has shown that international problems from wherever they come require international collaborative solutions and the more hazardous and the more dangerous the problem, the more collaborative those solutions are. And more importantly, the more expensive they're going to be. And you cannot spend your way in isolation out of this, that is going to bankrupt the nation, even as big as the United States of America, especially now.

Speaker 2:

And so the twin track of what do we do to not have COVID again, that's going to be extremely expensive. The proven track of that, where they spend to oblivion, if that's the tagline on nuclear weapons and other wrongs is not going to be affordable. I think one of the root causes of this is a feeling that there is a path in some way that you can spend your way to an invulnerable United States. It doesn't matter whether it's invulnerable against immigration, through building walls, average against coronavirus, through immigration controls, or it's against nuclear threat by having the biggest nuclear threat out there you can make. And I just want to finish the thought because please stability does not depend upon invulnerability. It depends on mutually assured vulnerability in vulnerability. Firstly is impossible to achieve, but everyone talked about mutually assured destruction. My personal belief is that what kept us alive and still keeps us alive is a sense of vulnerability. That is part of the deterrence equation. And if you try and promise that you can become invulnerable and missile defense is part of that false promise. If you can feel that you can promise and spend your way to in vulnerability you have taken what is essentially a stable situation and inverted it into a very unstable situation.

Speaker 8:

I'd agree. Um, just to build a little bit in answering your question, um, on that as well. So for all the reasons that he's, that he just stated, you know, we can't give up, even if it seems like president Trump is not going to change his mind regarding these issues. Uh, you know, we need to remember the history of, uh, of a lot of successes in reducing serious threats, um, the work to develop those options. Uh, you know, even if you don't know when it's going to occur, a lot of that occurs before it's politically feasible to actually execute those things. So at the intermediate range, nuclear forces treaty, there are technical experts in our national labs and elsewhere who were developing what became those options, the technicalities of how you would verify that treaty system and things like that were developed before the, the time was politically right to actually enter into that tree.

Speaker 8:

When that political moment was there, though, you need to have those options ready to go and well socialized. Um, and I think that it's really important. It may be up to us for right now in civil society to do that on the nuclear arms control issues. Um, but we need to keep those wheels turning, uh, really flesh out what, what options would, uh, if, if new political leadership comes in or president Trump were to change his mind, if he's reelected, um, you need to have those options ready to go and well understood. Um, the verification, uh, elements and technicalities sort of thought through already, um, to make those things, it brings them to life and makes them feasible. Uh, we saw the same thing with Syria on the chemical weapons elimination work, uh, in the defense department that time it was within government and working with our UK counterparts and so many others.

Speaker 8:

We are all thinking through different contingency options before there was any political opportunity to remove those weapons. Um, when the diplomats were able to sort of reach a breakthrough and create that political opportunity we had already, uh, in many of our countries and working with the OPCW, we had already worked out, you know, in different scenarios, what would we physically do to move the stuff and get it out of the country and get it destroyed in a treaty compliant manner. And that took years of work of pre-planning, um, when there was no political chance whatsoever that it was going to actually be used. Um, but then that was ready to roll. Uh, as soon as that political moment came along,

Speaker 2:

I think that that is a very good point. And then the very mercurial nature of the Trump presidency might throw up an opportunity to unity that no one has foreseen when he gets the bill out of the congressional, um, assessment of what went right and what went wrong. The internal one that we probably won't get to read during coronavirus 19, when that cost hits the, uh, the Regency desk, it is entirely possible that that a, that a bunch of planets will align. And he will ask the question, well, where do I save money? And it would be remiss of us. We would be asleep at the wheel, even though we're now no longer in government. If we didn't have a series of workable options that we've worked through with international partners that are meaningful and effective and doable, that we could pass through the chains of government and say, look, we know you, haven't been looking at this as your front burner, but here's some ideas. So that's why Christine and I and CSR and other organizations continue to work there. Even though at the moment, sometimes it feels like we're whistling up a very tall tree.

Speaker 6:

John Gower, a former rear Admiral with the ministry of defense in the United Kingdom and Christine Parramore currently with the council on strategic risks. Thank you both so much for your input.

Speaker 2:

Thanks. Thanks for having us. And before we say goodbye, when you tell you up the tremendous economic

Speaker 9:

burden of COVID-19 on economies, think about this. A collective 72 point $9 billion was spent on nuclear weapons by the world nuclear armed nations in 2019, and the congressional budget office has projected the U S nuclear forces budget will cost $494 billion between now and 2028. That's almost $50 billion a year on nuclear forces. That's backstory I'm Dana Lewis. Please listen to our other episodes. And if you like subscribe and share

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] [inaudible].