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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

US Strategic Commander on Nuclear Posture

On 31 March, at a breakfast meeting of the Defense Writers Group in Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Air Force General Eugene Habiger, spoke to reporters about his hopes and concerns for the future US nuclear stockpile and posture. In particular, he addressed the long-term prospects of the nuclear 'triad' - the combination of land-, sea- and air-launched strategic nuclear forces:

"At this particular point, my position is that you still need a triad, but at some point it [the arsenal] will have to fall off the triad... I don't know what that point is. Those are the kind of analyses we're doing now. But all three legs of the triad bring something different and unique to the fight, and I cannot look anybody in the eye and say that one system is more crucial than any other."

Habiger went on to complain that there "are too many variables" in trying to plan ahead: "I look at this arms control drawdown as something like a chess game... I've got a pretty good idea where START III is going, 2,000 to 2,500 [warheads], but we should not be focused on just START IV, we ought to be looking at START V, START VI. My fear is that long after I'm retired, in the year 2012 some four star at Offutt [Air Force Base, Nebraska, STRATCOM headquarters] is going to go, 'wow, why did those guys back in the year 1999 decide to cut up all those subs?' That is what I'm trying to obviate."

Habiger spoke candidly of the strategic difficulties, particularly regarding targeting, that the US might encounter as the START process drew numbers ever lower: "As you go to lower and lower force levels, a counterforce targeting strategy is no longer...applicable, because you haven't got all the weapons to cover all the targets. So then you go back to countervalue, and that's back to city busting, and so those are some of the issues you need to look at."

Regarding the end-goal of US arms control policy, and possibly alluding to the recent statement by serving and retired State leaders (see Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 23) Habiger stated:

"I agree with what a number of people have been saying over the past several months, that we should have zero nuclear weapons in the world. I agree with that, because it's the policy of the United States of America...and has been...since 1968 [when the US signed the NPT]... Article 6 [of the NPT]...says the ultimate goal of this treaty is the total elimination of nuclear weapons... But you need to read the small print; given the proper conditions. And that's the hang-up. I doubt we will ever see the proper preconditions..."

Reports: Stratcom considers changes to nuclear triad, Defense Daily, 1 April; Habiger - despite better relations, Russia remains a threat, Defense Daily, 2 April.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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