One Cheer for the Scowcroft Commission

Report Defense

One Cheer for the Scowcroft Commission

April 20, 1983 3 min read Download Report
Roger A.

(Archived document, may contain errors)

4/20/83 21


The Commission on Strate gic Forces, chaired@by retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, which was empaneled three months ago by Ronald Reagan to examine the future of America's Interc6ntinental Baliistic Missile force, last week released its recommendations. They were promptl y endorsed by the President. One of the most impottant recommendations is .that the U.S. be ready, by the early 1990s, to delploy a force of small, single warhead ICBMs. If deployed survivably, a'force of such missiles would.greatly enhance deterrence of n u clear attadk and support NATO's strategy of Flexible Response. The Commission convincingly argues this point -in its report. An ICBM weighing a relativelly light 15 tons can be .,deployed in a number-of survivable basing modes,,providing the flexibility n e eded to meet a variety of Soviet strategic challenges. A force of .small, single warhead ICBMs would also enhance strategic stability by distributing U.S. missile megatonnage over a lar4e number of launch platforms', thereby reducing the value of individu a l missiles as targets. Small, single warhead ICBMs, moreover, could spur the kind of arms control that would significantly reduce deployed;nuclear weapons. An arms control agreement that would require both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to dismantle their multiple warhead ICBMs for an eqiial level of single warhead ICBMs would result in a-massive reductioh of destructive nuclear power. For its stand on the small ICBM, the Commission earns one cheer. It fails, however, to address adequately the.moAl serious strategi c problem.-facing the naltion--that America's land-b'ased missiles currently are vulnerable to Soviet surprise attack. It is,puzzling, for instance, that the'Commission does not recommend a crash program for the small ICBM. The Commission apparently feels t hat ICBM vulnerability is not! an urgent problem because the Soviets could not destroy both the U.S. ICBM force and the alert bomber force at the same time, leaving the U.S. with plenty of deterrent capability with itsbomb.ers and missile firing submd-rin e s. To:be sure, there is no precise measure ofwhat is essential for credible nuclear deterrence. Nuclear strategists under Democratic as well as Republican administrations, however, haVe agreed that prudent deterrence requires that the U.S. have the capabi lity of denying military, victory @o the Soviet Union through controlled, limited attacks on Soviet military assets, including hardened targets. The U.S. cannot implement this nuclear strategy without survivable land-based ICBMs.


America's missile-fi ring submarines are poor weapons for controlled limited retaliation. For one thing, communicating with them is difficult. For another, a Bubmarine-which fires only some Of its missiles risks detection and destruction. Large missile submarines are a strate g ic reserve for massive retaliation. Bombers, meanwhile, must be used within the first eight hours of a conflict because of loss of bases. They lack the capability for prompt retaliation and face formidable and improving Soviet air defenses. A survivable l a nd-based ICBM force, on the other hand, meets the critical needs of endurance, prompt retaliatory capability, targeting flexibility and secure command and control. Survivable ICBMs are not merely a redundant third leg in the Triad; they are the foundation of deterrence. It is therefore essential that the U.S. rediice its ICBM vulnerability as rapidly as possible--and the early 1990s are not soon enough. There is no reason why the small ICBM could not be ready before the end of this decade. After all, it to o k only four yearsifrom go-ahead to initial' deployment of America's first ICBM. Another option would be to deploy the MX in!a multiple protective shelter (MPS) system using perhaps several hundred super-hardened silos. Indeed, the Scowcroft Commission con c luded that deploying the MX in an MPS system "meets the need of long-term survivability reasonably well." It unfortunately rejected this option because it.mistakenly feels MX survivability is not important enough to press the issue against political oppos i tion based upon environmental and cost factors. The Commission instead recommended deployment of 100 MX missile@ in existing Minuteman silos. Although these are vulnerable to Soviet aktack, a case can be made for deployment of MX as an interim measure unt i l Congress and the Administration can work out a proper survivable MPS basing mode for the missile. Not all ICBMs will be destroyed in a S6viet first strike, and each surviving MX will provide ten good counterfoIrce warheads'to enhance U.S. nuclear retali a tory capability and thereby aeterrence. Deployment of the MX, moreover, would give the U.S. an ongoing missile program to hedge against possible develop'mental problems in the small ICBM program. In any event, deployment ofla new American ICBM is almost c e rtainly necessary to induce the Soviets@to negotiate seriously about nuclear arms reductions. The U.S. needs a survivable ICBM, whether it is the MX or the small ICBM--and needs it as quickly as possible. The @cowcroft Commission clearly recognizes the ne e d to modernize the U.S. ICBM f6rce in response to a Soviet nuclear threat "in excess of any military'!requirement for defense." Its timetable is what is flawed. The nation wouid be better served--and defended--had the Commission and the Administration exp licitly recognized the urgent pace by which theSoviet ICBM threat i.nust be countered. Robert Foelbe'r Policy Analy6t

For further information: Robert Foelber, "MX and Strategic Survival," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 254. Colin S. Grayf Strategy a nd the MX (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1980). Francis P. Hoeber, "Strategic Forces" in Arms, Men, and;Military Budgets, Issues for Fiscal Year 1981 (New York: National Strategy Infoimation Center, 1980).



Roger A.