Ballooning US defense budget is aimed at one thing only: Terror, terror, terror

Posted on : 2023-11-05 09:06 KST Modified on : 2023-11-05 09:06 KST
The US is changing up its nuclear strategy, including scrapping its “sole purpose” use stance
Planes belonging to the South Korean, US and Japanese air forces carry out a joint air drill in the overlapping ADIZs of Japan and South Korea south of the Korean Peninsula on Oct. 22. (courtesy of the US Air Force)
Planes belonging to the South Korean, US and Japanese air forces carry out a joint air drill in the overlapping ADIZs of Japan and South Korea south of the Korean Peninsula on Oct. 22. (courtesy of the US Air Force)

Nobody would disagree that the US’ ability to maintain its global hegemony derives from its military strength. It’s also undeniable that the US’ military strength has been based on nuclear weapons since World War II.

The US has played a leading role in the development of nuclear weapons and the evolution of nuclear strategy. While nuclear strategy might seem like a frighteningly difficult concept, its central precept is disturbingly simple: terror. That single word explains the bulk of the field.

Terror is the origin of nearly all the concepts related to nuclear weapons, including nuclear deterrence, the doctrine of limited nuclear war, missile defense, nuclear arms control and the anti-nuclear movement. The US has played a leading role in most of those, except for allowing other countries to develop nuclear arsenals.

One reason previous US administrations have released documents about the US’ nuclear strategy is to reduce the danger and fear of a nuclear war. Over the past year, the Biden administration has published at least five official documents on the topic.

In October 2022, for example, the US Department of Defense released its “National Defense Strategy” (produced every four years), along with the “National Posture Review” and “Missile Defense Review.” This past February, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made public a version of the “Annual Threat Assessment,” which includes nuclear threats.

On Sept. 28, the Department of Defense released the “2023 Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and the Strategic Posture Commission, which consisted of 14 members of the House of Representatives, released its final report this month.

On Oct. 19, the Department of Defense submitted to Congress a yearly report titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” that includes the estimate that China is in possession of around 500 nuclear warheads.

US insinuate nuclear response to use of chemical and biological weapons

Strategic planning typically proceeds as follows: current and future threats are assessed, goals and methods for addressing those threats are identified, the specific weapons, units and troops required for their implementation are calculated, and those elements are at last added to a budget. But at every stage of that process, the recently released documents about the US nuclear strategy differ from the approach taken from the end of the Cold War until at least the Obama administration.

The biggest change is that China is regarded as being nearly equal to Russia. The US sees this as the first time it has faced two strong competitors with nuclear weapons.

The US believes that China’s current nuclear stockpile is about 100 higher from the previous estimate of 410 warheads (made by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in January) and expects that number to reach around 1,000 by 2030. Because the US is limited to 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons by its New START arms reduction treaty with Russia, that suggests that China will acquire a nuclear capability that’s roughly comparable with the US within a matter of years.

Add to that the nuclear threat from North Korea, the only nuclear power outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with the will and ability to strike the US mainland.

The goal of any country’s nuclear strategy of any era is the deterrence of nuclear war. In addition to this unchanging, universal goal, how nuclear weapons will be used can also be an objective.

China declared a “no first use” policy at the same time as it started to arm itself with nuclear warheads, while the US and Russia did not. In the war in Ukraine, Russia has hinted at the possibility of using nuclear weapons, and the US has hinted that it could use them as retaliation, if their enemies use chemical or biological weapons or engage in cyberattacks.

Biden has since abandoned his “sole purpose policy” that would only entail using America’s nuclear arsenal to deter — and, if necessary, retaliate for — a nuclear attack against the US and its allies, which he advocated for before he took office, and has called for “integrated deterrence,” which combines military power, including nuclear capabilities, with diplomacy and strong alliances to deter adversaries. Here, deterrence is not only applied to enemy nuclear attacks.

With at least two states (plus the variable of North Korea) as the target of nuclear deterrence and the decision to implement integrated deterrence, the US response strategy is inevitably changing, and the language that makes up strategic documents shows us which direction it is headed in.

The first is to strengthen its nuclear arsenal in terms of both quantity and quality. As China’s nuclear arsenal grows, the US will likely scrap its New START treaty commitments, which limits the number of nuclear weapons.

Qualitatively, it will modernize the so-called “nuclear triad” by replacing decades-old intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with new ones and introducing a new generation of strategic bombers. The plan is to complete these programs by roughly the mid-2030s.

In addition to nuclear weapons, investments in advanced conventional weapons and new weapons systems are also on the rise. Missile defense systems are being advanced as “war nets,” comprising layers of interlocking detection, tracking, and interception systems spanning the land, sea, air, space, and cyber domains, and linking them to instantaneous precision strike systems.

Military artificial intelligence, which combines big data and ultra-fast computation, will “command” the commander’s judgment, and unmanned systems, which work tirelessly around the clock, will play a role in defense and offense.

In short, US military supremacy will be maintained through a thoroughly technological approach, with the ability to both “defend virtually perfectly” and “attack as necessary.”

US scholars say nuclear strategy is good enough for now

The US nuclear strategy inevitably brings with it two age-old problems. One is skyrocketing defense costs. The proposed fiscal year 2024 US defense budget is the largest in history, totaling US$842 billion. This includes more than US$170 billion for airpower, US$48.1 billion for the Navy, and US$63.1 billion for missile defense, all of which are relatively relevant to nuclear strategy.

(For comparison, the Green Climate Fund, which was launched in 2013 to support climate action in developing countries, has a total global commitment of US$13.5 billion for 2020-23.)

The second problem is the destruction of peace and strategic instability caused by arms exports and arms races. The US is the world’s largest exporter of conventional weapons to all countries and groups.

It is clear that the nuclear arms race will continue to accelerate in response to China, Russia and North Korea for some time to come. Even if the US builds up its nuclear arsenal in response to several countries at the same time, those targets will respond to the US individually.

Three American academics, including Charles L. Glaser, recently wrote a joint op-ed in Foreign Affairs arguing that “the US nuclear arsenal can deter both China and Russia,” and that there is no need for the US to augment the total size of its nuclear arsenal.

With 14 US Navy Ohio-class nuclear submarines, each armed with 20 ballistic missiles, which are each themselves armed with eight warheads, each carrying hundreds of kilotons of power, plus 400 ICBMs and 60 strategic bombers, the argument goes, the US has more than enough firepower as it is.

The world is suddenly being pulled into a war trap. In Ukraine and Gaza, resentment, hatred, and fear are permeating the atmosphere, but the US — one of the root causes for such hostility — is not doing enough to achieve a ceasefire and peace.

The security of the Korean Peninsula is also stuck in the trap of “nuclear reductionism,” which sees North Korea’s nuclear weapons as the root of all evil and thinks that the only solution to that problem is the end of the Kim regime and the denuclearization of North Korea.

Is all of this happening because of legitimate fear, or is it because of the greed of certain countries and particular powers?

Or is it due to the foolishness and cowardice of those who hold the key to peace in their hands, and yet, decline to use it?

By Moon Jang-nyeol, former professor at Korea National Defense University

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles