Speaking Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Gen. Kevin Chilton, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said: “When looking into the future a basic question is … will we still need nuclear weapons 40 years from now? I believe the answer to that question is yes.”
Chilton’s remarks come as the administration prepares to unveil a much-awaited Nuclear Posture Review. But even with a nuclear abolitionist in charge, advocates of modernizing the arsenal are pushing back.
Take, for instance, Adam Lowther, a faculty researcher and defense analyst at the Air Force Research Institute. Lowther just published a new monograph, “Challenging Nuclear Abolition,” arguing for the continued relevance of nuclear weaponry, two decades years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Lowther, of course, does not represent Air Force policy; his paper is supposed to be independent analysis of issues of potential importance to Air Force commanders and their staffs. But his paper does reflect many of the concerns within the military establishment about maintaining — and possibly modernizing — the nuclear deterrent.
“As with every new administration, the realities of office overcome the rhetoric of the campaign,” Lowther wrote. “President Obama can be convinced that a safe, secure, and modern nuclear arsenal is the best way to protect the American people and promote peace and stability internationally. As with the American people and Congress, success will be determined by the strength of the argument presented to the president. Convincing President Obama is made much easier if the American people and Congress are already supportive of the policies advocated by modernizers.”
“Challenging Nuclear Abolition” was recently presented at a Naval Postgraduate School conference for political scientists who specialize in security studies; the paper provoked a fair amount of discussion. But this is more than just an academic debate: The president’s “no nukes” push has exposed a rift within the administration between the proponents of abolition and powerful supporters of modernization, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.