Secretary Of Defense Nominee Mark Esper Talks Nuclear Weapons

Peter Huessy 

Tue, Jul 16, 8:32 PM (11 hours ago)

to me,, David, Mark,, Peter

The presence of nuclear weapons in NATO countries for the last 50 years has been an excellent deterrent against aggression. With renewed tensions in the region, these nuclear weapons continue to serve the same deterrent mission and should remain in NATO countries.

What aspects of U.S. and NATO force posture do you assess as having the most significant deterrent effect   on Russia? 

In my view, maintaining combat-credible conventional and nuclear forces, along with our Allies, is one of the most effective deterrents against Russian aggression. Although not wanting to speculate on the Russian deterrence calculus, U.S. and NATO force posture that is credibly lethal, resilient, agile, and ready is likely critical to our forward deterrent.

Nuclear Policy 

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) reaffirmed long-held American doctrine that includes limiting the use of nuclear weapons to “extreme circumstances” and the need to maintain the nation’s nuclear triad of land-, sea-, and air-based capabilities. The NPR also recommended the development of a low-yield nuclear weapon to deter threats from Russia, and potentially, the return of a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile to the Navy fleet. 

Do you agree that modernizing each leg of the nuclear triad and the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons complex is a critical national security priority? 

Yes. Although still reliable and credible today, our current delivery systems, platforms, weapons, and infrastructure are rapidly aging into obsolescence. We are out of margin for modernizing our nuclear deterrent enterprise, and, if confirmed, I will continue to support all of the just-in-time modernization programs as a critical national security priority.


Do you believe the current program of record is sufficient to support the full modernization of the nuclear   triad, including delivery systems, warheads, and infrastructure? 

Yes, I do. The Administration’s nuclear modernization plan, which also includes updates to the global Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications architecture, is a carefully considered, national response to our aging nuclear forces – one that will preserve our ability to deter the only existential military threats to the Nation. If confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration to ensure these programs are completed as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.


What are your ideas for working across the Joint Force to mitigate the risk that all three legs of the nuclear triad could “age out” simultaneously at the end of the 2020s? 

By executing the guidance in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, and receiving the necessary and timely funding from Congress for modernization, the Joint Force will be able to mitigate the risk of our aging nuclear triad. Technological advancements will reduce the development, production, and sustainment costs of the triad, which will allow us to keep each leg fully ready to provide the required deterrence.


Do you support and intend to advocate for the Long Range Stand-Off weapon? 

Yes, if confirmed. The AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile will be nearly 50 years old when the Long-range   Stand-off (LRSO) weapon is scheduled to replace it. The AGM-86B is decades past its anticipated service life. To maintain the effectiveness of the bomber force, we must replace the Air-launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) with a system capable of performing the mission in the decades to come.


Do you believe a nuclear “No First Use” policy would be appropriate for the United States? Please explain your answer? 

No. The United States has never adopted a “No First Use” policy and should refrain from doing so in this increasingly complex and dangerous nuclear environment. A No First Use policy could increase the likelihood an adversary could miscalculate U.S. resolve and redlines. It could also create doubt among allies and partners that the United States would effectively and in a timely way come to their defense in extreme circumstances to defend vital interests. Such a policy would not decrease nuclear dangers but would potentially increase them by undermining deterrence of adversaries and eroding assurance of allies and partners.


In your view, does the Stockpile Stewardship Program provide the tools necessary to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile without testing? If not, what tools are needed? 

The Stockpile Stewardship Program is an integral part of ensuring the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons, but it does not stand alone. We need to continue the Stockpile Stewardship Program while simultaneously rebuilding a resilient and responsive production infrastructure to manufacture replacement components for our weapons in addition to preserving the ability to conduct simulated testing. The United States remains committed to a moratorium on nuclear explosive testing and would only consider a return to nuclear explosive testing if there is a severe technical or geopolitical challenge that cannot be addressed through other means.


In 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Hagel directed a comprehensive review of the DOD nuclear enterprise in response to incidents involving U.S. nuclear forces and their senior leadership. The review culminated in recommendations to improve personnel management, enforce security requirements, increase deliberate senior leader focus and attention, enact and sustain a change in culture, and to address numerous other concerns. Almost five years later, responsibility for addressing these recommendations and monitoring implementation of corrective actions has been transferred from OSD to the Military Services. 


Based on your recent experience as Acting Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army, are the Military Services maintaining appropriate focus on implementing the corrective actions required by the Nuclear Enterprise Review? 

Given my limited time as Acting Secretary of Defense, and the fact that the Army did not have responsibility for any part of the nuclear enterprise, I cannot make an informed assessment at this time. It is my understanding, however, that David Norquist, who is performing the duties of Deputy Secretary of Defense, closely tracks issues from the Nuclear Enterprise Review through his leadership of the Nuclear Deterrence Enterprise Review Group (NDERG). If confirmed, I will work closely with Mr. Norquist to ensure the Department maintains leadership focus and prevents the kinds of issues that occurred in the past.


Arms Control 

On February 2, 2019, after years of Russian treaty violations, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the United States would suspend its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, triggering the six-month withdrawal countdown. 


How can DOD mitigate any negative consequences of withdrawal from the treaty, and reassure NATO allies regarding stability in Europe? 

In the event that Russia does not return to compliance with its obligations under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) by the August 2, 2019, deadline, we should pursue development of ground-based, conventional, intermediate-range missile systems. Failing to do so could cause allies and others to question our resolve in ensuring Russia cannot achieve a military advantage through its INF violation. We worked closely for years with our NATO Allies on this issue, and I saw first-hand the results of that coordination at the June Defense Ministerial in the strong message of solidarity and support from the NATO Secretary General and our Allies on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty issue. The best way to mitigate negative consequences and reassure NATO Allies is to maintain this close coordination as we work cooperatively within the Alliance to adapt NATO’s deterrence and defense posture in light of Russia’s actions and ongoing malign behavior.


The New START entered into force in 2011 and will expire in 2021, but can be extended by up to five years by agreement between the United States and Russia. It covers long-range bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but does not cover new Russian strategic-range systems. 


Do you believe the new strategic-range systems announced by President Vladimir Putin in February 2018 should be included under the New START central limits? 

Yes, certainly for two of the five systems, since they will fall under current New START Treaty definitions. The other three do not meet any current New START Treaty definition, but do meet our criteria for “new kinds of strategic offensive arms”: they are nuclear-armed and have strategic range. I believe we should seek a broader agreement with Russia that would capture a broader number of nuclear weapons beyond ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers.


Do you believe it to be in the national security interests of the United States to extend the New START Treaty? 

New START Treaty extension could potentially fit into a new arms control framework, provided the net result improves the security of the United States and of our allies and partners. DoD is concerned that the New START Treaty does not capture Russia’s improving and increasing arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. DoD is also concerned by Russia’s poor pattern of compliance with numerous treaties and agreements. I understand the President has charged his national security team to think more broadly about arms control, both in terms of the systems covered and the countries involved including the need to constrain a rapidly growing Chinese nuclear capability. If confirmed, I look forward to supporting that process.


What are your views on Russian tactical nuclear forces not covered by the New START Treaty and whether arms control measures can adequately address them? 

Russia is modernizing and expanding an active existing stockpile of approximately 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons that can be deployed on ships, submarines, and aircraft, with ground forces, and on air and missile defense interceptors. None of these weapons are limited by any arms control treaty. I believe it is time to bring all of Russia’s nuclear arsenal under a new arms control agreement. Unfortunately, Russia has rebuffed past U.S. efforts to pursue reductions in nonstrategic nuclear weapons but I am mindful that the Senate included the requirement for the future treaties to include Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in the resolution of ratification to New START.


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