Nuclear Defense Experts Urge Revitalization of U.S. Ballistic Missile Programs

Former senator Jon Kyl: Current non-proliferation treaties between Russia, U.S. ineffective for threat reduction

In this handout from the U.S. Navy, Standard Missile-3 is launched in Kauai, Hawaii
In this handout from the U.S. Navy, Standard Missile-3 is launched in Kauai, Hawaii / Getty Images
June 7, 2017

Nuclear defense experts called for a bipartisan effort to revitalize the U.S. ballistic missile programs at this year's nuclear posture review in a report discussed at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday.

The report, "A New Nuclear Review for a New Age," reassessed the United States's relation with its primary nuclear adversaries—China, North Korea, and Russia—and urged lawmakers to increase defense spending on ballistic missile development and testing.

Former senator Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) said the new administration should invest in the modernization of nuclear defense programs to deter other nations from posing a nuclear threat to the country. According to Kyl, current nonproliferation treaties between Russia and the United States are ineffective for threat reduction.

"A [nuclear posture review] must take into account the possibility of other nations cheating. Its assumptions cannot rest on unenforceable promises. Rather than Ronald Reagan's 'trust, but verify,' our 2017 position should be 'don't trust, but modernize,'" he said.

Russia has not historically honored its nuclear treaties with the United States. The country stands in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991-1992. Additionally, Russia's invasion of Crimea and Ukraine in 2014 makes the nation a greater threat than it was in the first decade of the 21st century.

"As opposed to a Russian federation that is at least a quasi-ally that is a partner of sorts, we now have a Russian federation that seeks to recover its post-Soviet space, engaging in hybrid warfare, changing the borders in Europe for the first time since the second world war, engaging in a pretty robust nuclear buildup and in nuclear first-use threats repeatedly," said Keith B. Payne, the study's director and president of the National Institute for Public Policy.

Because of Russia's increased aggressiveness, Payne advised that the United States rethink its postwar nuclear policy of nonproliferation and focus instead on rebuilding its arsenal.

"We need a re-prioritization back to the classic goals deterrence, extended deterrence, damage limitation, and assuring allies," he said.

According to the study, the United States's policy of nonproliferation does not correlate with nuclear disarmament in other countries. Since the last nuclear posture review in 2010, only the United Kingdom has reduced its supply of ballistic missiles in keeping with international agreements. China and North Korea, meanwhile, have conducted an increasing number of ICBM tests since then.

The Hudson Group's Rebeccah L. Heinrichs said that the increased aggressiveness of China, North Korea, and Russia coupled with the a growing Middle Eastern ballistic missile presence made possible by the Iran nuclear deal has caused countries around the world to stockpile.

"It's a new missile era. Ballistic missiles are not just improving in the quality and the types of platforms that we're seeing but the sheer numbers of global missile proliferation," she said.