13 January 2018

Eliminating ICBMs—as part of a 21st-century deterrence strategy

Brent J. Talbot

The United States, if it follows through on plans to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, would perpetuate a Cold War deterrence structure inappropriate to contemporary threats. The Cold War nuclear triad may have been appropriate for deterring nuclear aggression by the Soviet Union, but today the United States must prepare to deter all nuclear powers, especially rogue states such as North Korea. Establishing strategic deterrence for the 21st century will require, in addition to maintaining an appropriately structured nuclear force, focusing on missile defense, intelligence, and conventional long-range strike capabilities – as well as on alliances, partnerships, and institutions at all levels. Intercontinental ballistic missiles have become unnecessary. They are less accurate than submarine-launched ballistic missiles. They are easier for adversaries to target. And because they can plausibly be used only against Russia, they do little to deter prospective nuclear rogue actors. Intercontinental ballistic missiles should be phased out of the US nuclear arsenal beginning no later than 2030. 

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