The Pentagon, Nuclear Deterrence and Russia One Step Closer to War

In late February 2020, the Pentagon conducted a military exercise that simulated a nuclear attack and, rather than just referring to a generic"enemy" as is typical of these exercises, a post-exercise briefing clearly outlined who the enemy was. In addition, given that nuclear war games are generally treated as top secret by United States Department of Defense, department officials were surprisingly candid about releasing details to the entire world.

Here is a link to the transcript of the DoD Background Briefing on Nuclear Deterrence and Modernization along with a screen capture showing the first page of the briefing:

Let's look at some key excerpts.  As I noted above, rather than referring to a generic "enemy" as would be typical, DoD officials were very open about who the enemy was during the scenario played out for the Secretary of Defense:

"It was a — a — a — you have a — a exercise secretary of defense, exercise president, and the — the scenario included a — a — a European contingency where you are conducting a war with — with Russia, and Russia decides to use a low-yield limited nuclear weapon against a site on NATO territory, and then you go through the conversation that you would have with the secretary of defense and then with the president, ultimately, to decide — decide how to respond. And so they played out that — that game, and the secretary got a — a good understanding for how that went." (my bold)

Note that the DoD official clearly states that the exercise specifically used Russia as the aggressor.

Here's a back and forth between a Senior Defense Official and David Martin of CBS about the exercise:

"Q: In the scenario exercise that you've described, did you say that the Russians had detonated a low yield weapon on their territory?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: No, on our territory.

Q: OK and what was the U.S. response?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: The U.S. response was — I think — I think I won't — I won't talk about it but it was a limited response. So I don't want to … 

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Did it go nuclear?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Well, yes. They attack us with a low-yield nuclear. I mean, in the course of exercise, we simulated responding with a nuclear weapon." ( my bold)

Notice the use of the words "our territory".  In fact, as the question and answer period continues we have this exchange:

Q: Just one on that. When you say "U.S. territory," you mean here in the continental U.S. as opposed to U.S. installation overseas, in that exercise?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: No, it was in Europe, the — they struck a target in Europe.

Q: Europe, OK."

So, in other words, not "our territory".

Lastly, here is one final key excerpt, referring to the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and his visit to the Minot "weapons art facility" launchroom and STRATCOM during the "mini-exercise:

"The secretary's visit was — was — was outstanding, and his principle objective was twofold. One was to, again, convey the sense that nuclear modernization is the number one priority of the department…."

Since modernization of the American nuclear triad is a priority for Washington as stated in the most recent iteration of its Nuclear Posture Review, let's look at what the DoD spokesperson had to say about the cost of the program:

"And ultimately, it's affordable. You've heard a lot about $1.3 trillion triad. And as you know, that's over 30 years, that's over 30 years, right? So today's defense budget includes 4 percent for nuclear weapons. And that's not just modernization, but that's also to sustain and operate the current force, right? 

At the peak of this modernization, we'll be at about 6.4 percent of the budget. For recapitalization, for sustainment, for operations and the like, for about, I don't know, close to 10 years. It would come back down to a steady state of about 3 percent. 

And of course, the total budget request for F.Y. '21 for nuclear weapons is $28.9 billion. $28.9 billion. $12 billion is for recapitalization, the so-called modernization, if you will, and $16.8 billion for sustainment and operations. 

Again, to put a fine point on this, this recapitalization, the $12.1 billion, that's 1.7 percent of the DOD budget request. For sustainment and operations, it's 2.4 percent. So, again, the total is about 4 percent — 4.1 percent of the DOD budget is devoted to nuclear. 

And of course, there's a Department of Energy share of this, and their request for weapons activities in that National Nuclear Security Administration, is $15.6 billion, which is about 1 percent of 050 funding, right? So if you add their 1 percent to our 4.1 percent, you're up at about 5 percent of all national security spending devoted to the — to the nuclear enterprise, all right?" (my bolds)

So much for stepping back from the brink.  After all, we have to justify spending over a trillion dollars of American taxpayers money on new and even more deadly "toys" for the Department of Defense.

During the background briefing, the Senior Defense Official referred to Russia 21 times, China 4 times and North Korea 5 times.  It is pretty clear that, when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons, the United States Department of Defense clearly believes that Russia is a very significant threat.

Just in case you are curious, here is what RT had to say in an OpEd piece about the designation of Russia as the "enemy" in this exercise:

Given this:

…and the fact that the United States does not have a No First Use (NFU) policy when it comes the use of nuclear weapons, we can clearly see that we are stepping ever closer to nuclear war.

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