Hey RRW Baby, Welcome Back Iz Missed Ya!

Michael Klare is a good analyst, and I have been reading his stuff for a long time. For instance, he has written a good book on the security implications of the looming energy crisis, that is the crisis posed by the depletion and over use of fossil fuels, and his book on rogue states remains the best I have read.

Klare argued, regarding the latter, quite early in the piece, that the rogue states paradigm was essentially an ideological construct used, in part, to justify the continuance of strategies of containment and deterrence, and their associated expansive force postures, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rogue states paradigm enabled the US to largely maintain its very high levels of military spending, to justify external military intervention, and to maintain sizeable military forces equipped, deployed and trained with respect to a strategic doctrine built upon the global projection of large scale firepower.

I think the Klare analysis was spot on.

He has written an interesting article on US and NATO strategic planning regarding Russia for The Nation, where he has a column, which is worth thinking about. He states;

All of this—the aggressive exercises, the NATO buildup, the added US troop deployments—reflects a new and dangerous strategic outlook in Washington. Whereas previously the strategic focus had been on terrorism and counterinsurgency, it has now shifted to conventional warfare among the major powers…

…Until recently, he explained, American forces had largely been primed to defeat insurgent and irregular forces, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now, however, the Pentagon was being readied for “a return to great-power competition,” including the possibility of all-out combat with “high-end enemies” like Russia and China. The budgetary and force-deployment implications of this are enormous in their own right, but so is this embrace of “great-power competition” as a guiding star for US strategy. During the Cold War, it was widely assumed that the principal task of the US military was to prepare for all-out combat with the Soviet Union, and that such preparation must envision the likelihood of nuclear escalation…

…Now, however, Secretary Carter and his aides are seriously thinking about—and planning for—conflicts that would involve another major power and could escalate to the nuclear realm

This is true, but in a certain sense it was always true. To be sure terrorism and counterinsurgency doctrine enjoyed precedence following 9/11, certainly in terms of actual combat and operational planning nonetheless contingency planning for great power conflict with Russia and China never ceased; it was just not as emphasised and that contingency is now more likely.

For example, it was with the end of the cold war that China once again became a “target” of US strategic nuclear war planning (i.e. placed in the SIOP and its successors). The Bush administration hardly forgot all about Russia, especially in the nuclear domain. Klare focuses on Russia, but we should not neglect also that AirSea Battle in the context of Obama’s “tilt to Asia” preceded the current concerns.

The situation now enables such planning to be more openly discussed, conducted and expanded. It also enables changes to conventional force postures on the ground of the type that Klare speaks of in this (good) article.

All this is important, especially for strategic nuclear war planning, nuclear weapons and their associated means of delivery and infrastructure. How so?

Strategic war planners and weapons designers have wanted to modernise US nuclear warheads right from the end of the cold war, particularly with reference to improving their capability against hardened and buried targets. These desired modernisations were originally conceived of in the 1980s during the halcyon days of the Reagan era, and which consequently had a Soviet/Russian focus (especially Kosvinsky mountain).

We had proposals for low yield earth penetrating warheads, for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrater (RNEP), and for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) in particular. The RRW programme, in my view, fitted nicely into the doctrinal framework provided by Bush the Vacuum’s horrid Nuclear Posture Review. These modernisation programmes, the RRW especially, encountered numerous political difficulties especially in the House (that part of Congress more accountable to the public), grassroots protest mobilisations directed at members of the House, and opposition from the liberal arms control community. They were not implemented. For Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore that was kind of a drag.

The big thing, in my opinion, about the shift from terrorism and counterinsurgency doctrine to open and relatively uncontested strategic planning with respect to great power competition is that it opens the door to nuclear modernisations of the RNEP and RRW type.

Okay, the Obama administration *is* modernising the US nuclear stockpile, and has been committed to this since its own Nuclear Posture Review that enabled modernisation, however the Obama programme does not have all the features of Bush the Vacuum’s desired modernisation programme. For example, it does not have the features of the latter stages of the RRW programme.

RRW, RNEP and so on might now be revived. The Nuclear Posture Review of the next administration, Clinton or Trump, will be completed very much with these doctrinal shifts of emphasis toward great power conflict in mind.

The Title. I admit it’s weird. The RRW is something I know a bit about. I did write a wee bit of stuff on RRW during the Bush era when I was doing my PhD. I think my writing even got a gig on the, anonymous, blog of a Los Alamos nuclear weapons designer 😉