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Arms talk supports nuclear posture

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By Roger Snodgrass

O’Dean Judd, a former chief scientist of the Strategic Defense Initiative Missile Defense Program in Washington, D.C., pretty much took the “dis” out of “disarmament” in a talk on arms control Wednesday night.Speaking to the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security, the LANL fellow and wide-ranging technical expert, intelligence officer and policy advisor on modern weaponry delivered an analysis of how the military views its nuclear weapons options in the world today.“Are there realistic plans to achieve deep cuts in nuclear arms?” he asked.“I haven’t seen one. Everybody talks about it, but how would you do it?”Judd began with a reminder that the role of arms control could only be understood by considering the nation’s military requirements in relation to the global “threat landscape.”“You try to define upcoming threats. You say, ‘What is in that landscape and how do you configure your arms to deal with it,’” Judd said.That landscape has grown more complicated in recent years, not only because of countries like North Korea, India and Pakistan, that have been added to the list of nuclear weapons states, but also because more countries are trying to acquire the capability. More troubling in some ways, Judd said, is the large number of countries that now have ballistic missiles, most with long-range capabilities.Judd pointed out that military targets are not now routinely hardened and deeply buried underground. Targets are mobile and re-locatable, and warfare has become asymmetrical. Nuclear deterrence was not all that successful in either of the Iraq wars, he said, although the threat of nuclear retaliation might have restrained Saddam Hussein from using chemical weapons that were commonly employed during the Iran/Iraq War.  “It’s not just about numbers,” he said. “It’s what they mean and what underlies the numbers, like military utility and strategic stability.”With all the changes and new developments, there are still only two countries, Russia and the United States, who have tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.Russia has lately upgraded its reliance on its nuclear deterrence, Judd said, “because of its run-down army and navy.”China does not have that many nuclear weapons but is modernizing and improving accuracy.Third-world countries, Judd believes, want nuclear weapons not to attack or fight a war, but to have a seat at the table. Using those weapons as threats to American allies can be an effective ploy.“It makes a big problem for negotiations,” he said. “They don’t have to use them, just threaten to use them.”American nuclear budgets are declining and the U.S. Strategic Command has added many other missions to the responsibility for nuclear deterrence that was once a single focus.Military planners always want options, Judd noted. The nuclear option makes a definitive impression, but increasingly precision conventional weapons can be used to attack most of what the military might want, with the exception of those targets that are burrowing underground.Having spent a good portion of his career on the Strategic Defense Initiative, initiated during the Reagan administration, Judd spoke positively about missile defense.“We now have an operational ballistic missile defense,” he said, saying it had converted what used to be “mutually assured destruction” into “mutually assured survival.”Among the advantages of missile defense, he said, was protection against nuclear blackmail threats from small countries and rogue states. If you could negate any missile launched from anywhere, Judd said, you might get down to zero nuclear weapons, but he was reluctant to see that as a good option now.In the final analysis, Judd defended the current goal laid out in the Moscow Treaty between President Bush and Vladimir Putin in 2002 as the optimum level of nuclear weapons.That agreement committed the two countries to reduce their stockpiles to 1,500-2,200 weapons by 2012.Deeper reductions, Judd said, would destabilize the arrangement by changing it from a “counter force” strategy aimed at leadership and military targets to a “counter value” strategy that would have to target cities and populations. By military logic, lower numbers would require that kind of shift.Trying to get even deeper reductions would bring the Europeans into the discussion and eventually the other nuclear players, and bring into play “the law of unintended consequences.” “Zero to one is a dangerous place,” said Judd. “I’m not sure the logic of how you get down there.”His conclusion was that disarmament is an emphatically “go-slow” process.“Maybe the numbers we have now are right,” he said.A vigorous discussion followed the talk, as members of the committee questioned Judd’s assumptions and defended their formal position that calls for reductions to 300 nuclear weapons, based on multilateral negotiations.Dave Thomson, one of the group’s founders, also defended the principle of verification. “The amount of verification will determine how low you can go,” he said.Bill Stratton, like several others in the audience, was surprised by Judd’s unequivocal endorsement of missile defense.“You seem to have more confidence in the missile defense system than most people,” Stratton said.