The nation’s top nuclear commander on Friday slammed a draft U.N. resolution to ban nuclear weapons, asserting that before the nuclear age the world was marred by “death and destruction” and that the advent of atomic arms dramatically reduced great-power conflict.
“Can I imagine a world without nuclear weapons? Yes, I can. That’s a world I didn’t like,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the Military Reporters and Editors Association annual meeting, hosted by POLITICO and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
He argued that nuclear weapons have prevented conflicts from escalating into large-scale wars with large numbers of casualties, pointing out that in the six years before the introduction of nuclear weapons in 1945, as many as 80 million people were killed in World War II — or about 33,000 people a day.
All the conflicts that followed “don’t even come close,” he said. “As horrible as the world is today — and it is nasty — it is not anywhere near like that.”
The United Nations began considering a draft resolution this week that would call for a global ban on nuclear weapons. The conference that’s working on the proposal will meet for a second time this summer.
But Hyten questioned what a world without nuclear weapons would look like.
Even if countries get rid of their nuclear stockpiles, they would likely still have the scientific capability and materials to rebuild bombs — possibly in secret.
And although the U.S. has de-emphasized investment in its nuclear capabilities, Hyten stressed that “the rest of the world did exactly the opposite.”
Specifically, he pointed to investments by Russia and China, as well as advancements by North Korea and Iran in developing nuclear weapons.
Instead of doing away with the nation’s nuclear arsenal, Hyten argued that modernizing the three legs of the so-called triad — including a new nuclear bomber, ballistic missile submarine and intercontinental ballistic missile — must be a top priority.
Some lawmakers, however, see developing more modern weapon systems as just too expensive in a time of budget constraints. By some estimates, the plan would cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.
But Hyten maintained that modernizing the force would cost only 6 percent of the annual defense budget, about 2 percent to 3 percent higher than the investment today.
“Deterrence will always be cheaper than war,” he said.
In coming months, he said, the Pentagon will consider new options to deliver lower-yield nuclear weapons as part of its so-called nuclear posture review.
The Defense Science Board, a top Pentagon advisory panel, recently recommended the military research a low-yield warhead that could offer a new option for a limited nuclear strike.
“I think it’s a valid question to ask,” Hyten said, noting the subject will be part of a so-called Nuclear Posture Review conducted over the next six months.
As part of the review, Hyten also said he will be “adamant” that all three legs of the nuclear triad — bombers, subs and missiles — are critical to the nation’s security.
While Hyten was adamant about the need to update the U.S. arsenal, he also said pursuing arms control agreements with other nuclear powers is just as critical.
He expressed strong support for the 2011 New START Treaty, which limits the number of nuclear warheads in the United States and Russia and requires regular inspections by both sides.
President Donald Trump has called the pact a “bad deal.”
“In the early days, when we didn’t have any arms control agreements, you never knew how much was enough,” Hyten said. “We understand how much is enough now: 1,550 deployed warheads is enough to deter Russia, and their 1,550 is enough to deter us.”
By: Jacqueline Klimas