Issue Briefs

Why A Nuclear Deterrent Without ICBMs Would Be Dangerous And Destabilizing (From Forbes)

Why A Nuclear Deterrent Without ICBMs Would Be Dangerous And Destabilizing (From Forbes)

Loren B. Thompson

August 13, 2021

The United States has long maintained a nuclear “triad” of land-based ICBMs, sea-based ballistic missiles, and bombers. Now some members of Congress are proposing that Washington forego replacing its aged ICBMs. That would be dangerous, because the number of targets an enemy would need to take out in a disarming first strike would fall from nearly 500 to barely 20. Bombers could be wiped out if not on alert, leaving only a dozen ballistic-missile submarines to deter nuclear Armageddon. If Russia or China figured out how to track and target the subs while they were at sea, the temptation to strike first in a crisis might become irresistible. Getting rid of the ICBM leg of the triad thus would make America less safe. The U.S. might save a lot of money by not developing a new ICBM, but if that leads to a nuclear exchange it would be just about the stupidest decision in military history. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.

The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.

Loren B. Thompson is a Senior Adviser at GPI, Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was Deputy Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Thompson holds doctoral and masters degrees in government from Georgetown University and a bachelor of science degree in political science from Northeastern University.