Postol: U.S. Nuclear Modernization Raises Threat Of Nuclear War

December 23, 2014

Theodore Postol is Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a well known, sharp critic of U.S. missile defense policy. He argues in a lengthy Dec. 10 article in the Nation, titled "How the Obama Administration Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," that Obama's commitment to a modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — a program that could, according to at least one study, cost $1 trillion — increases the capabilities of nuclear warfighting and itself raises the threat of nuclear war.

Postol writes:

"The schedule and technical objectives of the U.S. nuclear program are perfectly aligned with the bristling atmospherics associated with the downward spiral of U.S.-Russian relations."

The implication is clear: This program far precedes the current crisis in U.S.-Russian relations involving Ukraine. The Russians know this, they know that much of what the U.S. is working on will never work and so are asking themselves the following questions:

"Do U.S. military and political leaders actually believe that the upgraded systems could serve a useful military purpose? If so, could such ill-informed beliefs lead to a cascade of events that result in a nuclear catastrophe?"

Postol says that the "troubling" answer to both questions is "yes" which leads to an "unsettling" conclusion:

"The modernization program is a reckless policy that directly undermines our safety and national security."

Then he goes through the downward spiral of U.S. technical measures to increase precision and accuracy of U.S. nuclear systems, and the Russian responses to those systems, which are aggravated by the fact that Russia does not have a functioning satellite early warning system—they are dependent on a system of ground-based radars which, while they have been continually upgrading that system, is still constrained by line-of-sight limitations—which reduces the time that Russian leaders have to respond to a threatened U.S. missile attack.

"Everyone on the U.S. side who is properly informed understands that Russia would launch a counterattack before the U.S. warheads arrived. Despite this frightening reality, policy-makers have not attempted to analyze the benefit to U.S. security of pushing the Russians to a higher state of alert. Nor have they asked how an increased U.S. nuclear threat to Russia improves the security of U.S. allies or, for that matter, anyone else around the globe."

Postol concludes by warning that the scale of destruction of nuclear weapons is such that any notion of using them in a limited and controlled way is "completely disconnected from reality."

"In a world that is fundamentally unpredictable, the pursuit of an unchallenged capacity to fight and win a nuclear war is a dangerous folly."