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Nuclear Bunker Busters
An Interview with Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer is a senior policy analyst for defense
and national security in the Davis Institute for International Studies
at the Heritage Foundation.
Briefly describe what your areas of focus
are as an analyst for national defense and security.
I focus on all issues of defense and national security. In the past
two weeks, I have written on the U.S. bomber and modernizing the
U.S. bomber force, as well as bringing into better balance bombers
and fighters and what Secretary of State Colin Powell should be
speaking about when he meets with his NATO partners in couple of
weeks. So basically, I run the whole gambit of defense issues. I
look at issues that are important in terms of national security
and what problems are out there, and I pose solutions for them.
What I am not is a regional expert. I am not a Russian or Chinese
expert; my job is purely functional in nature.
If you had to pick one reason to support nuclear bunker
buster creation, what would it be?
I would not say there is just one reason. It oversimplifies the
issue to say there is just one reason. There is an array of reasons
for the bunker busters. That said, if you were to choose one reason,
it is that there could possibly be an emerging set of targets out
there that we would need to be able to address and that that might
be the way to address it. Things like deeply buried bunkers, hence
the name bunker busters, but it could be a deeply buried anything.
One thing that history should teach us is that military technology
evolves over time, and those who choose to challenge someone else
militarily will take what the people are trying to challenge, what
they bring to the table and how best to challenge them. If the U.S.
has information superiority, they can see anything, anywhere, anytime
and destroy it anywhere, anytime. One of the things that potential
adversaries may attempt to do is bury things underground. That's
what we see happening. That is just a fact of the matter. We have
to understand potential adversaries will use the cover of the earth
to hide command and control, chem/bio, WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction]
facilities, maybe conventional facilities, who knows what. We need
to be able to address that problem-- whether it is with nuclear
bunker busters or something else, is irrelevant to me. My problem
is just saying not to even look at nuclear weapons. We should look
at the problem with what is the best way to address it, whether
it be nuclear or otherwise. That is the nuclear bunker buster side,
but there is the whole issue of smaller nuclear weapons, which is
appropriate given today's world in terms of trying to achieve
some kind of deterrent capability. Our nuclear deterrence right
now is Cold War deterrence, which does not have a whole lot of credibility
right now as far as I am concerned, because essentially what we
are saying is that a country like North Korea, for example, will
be deterred from acting belligerently because we will threaten to
annihilate that country-- assured destruction to them. I do not
think that is legitimate anymore-- maybe during the Cold War, but
right now we are in a unique situation where actually the US and
any western coalition power often cares more about the people of
a potentially adversarial nation than that nation's government.
That has led us to really try to minimize civilian casualties. A
country like North Korea could take that into its calculations.
It could say "well, we could act belligerently and we can even
use a weapon of mass destruction against the United States, and
we do not think they will respond in kind because they are not going
to kill 20 million North Koreans for my actions." Whether we
will or not is up for debate, but what is not up for debate is that
that begins to break away at the credibility of deterrence if they
[other countries] are not sure how we will respond. A more credible
thing might be if we had smaller nuclear weapons that are not going
to absolutely destroy the country, but will destroy any underground
bunker. That may add to the credibility of us responding in kind.
So the reason to have these smaller nuclear weapons is not to use
them, but to advance deterrence. It is part of the evolving nature
of nuclear weapons into flexible response to the international environment
we live in.
Do you believe the Spratt-Furse low yield ban will be repealed
any time soon?
Sure. I do not see any utility in taking away flexibility in terms
of national security. I am not for building nuclear weapons for
fun, but if there is a requirement for those things, I think that
we should develop those things, bottom line. To have this sort of
ban on research and development of low yield nuclear weapons, a
ban that was really rooted in a different time in a different era,
really does not make much sense to me, certainly as we are entering
a very unpredictable world where we do not know what we might need.
If we find ourselves in a situation where it would be nice to have
a low yield nuclear weapon in order to maintain the security of
our country and our friends and allies, then I think we want to
have to that capability, if that is what is required.
A main argument against nuclear development is that a new
nuclear arms race could be sparked with other countries such as
India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Do you feel that there is any
merit to that claim?
There is no merit to it and we should not be concerned by it. North
Korea, India, and Pakistan are going to develop nuclear weapons
if they want to, regardless of nuclear weapon development going
on in the U.S. We have not tested weapons since 1992. Since that
time, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel have all developed
nuclear weapons, and Iran and Iraq have attempted to develop nuclear
weapons. There are six countries that have been developing nuclear
weapons while we were not. The reason we would test is wholly independent
and different from why North Korea and Pakistan would develop nuclear
weapons; there is no causation there. The same is true with missiles.
We see the same thing with missiles all the time. People say, "If
you get rid of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty everyone
is going to start building missiles." Well these people evidently
are not watching the news because, if you look at history, we had
the ABM Treaty and the Cold War at the same time from 1972-1991.
In 1972 we had about 2000 warheads, in 1991 we had about 12000 warheads,
while we did not have missile defense, did have the ABM treaty.
So the ABM treaty evidently did not stop proliferation; it did not
stop development of missiles between the United States and the Soviet
Union. Then you have from 1991-2002, the years where we did have
the ABM Treaty, the Cold War was over, and we still did not have
missile defense. You see North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan,
and China all going full speed ahead with missile development. That
argument is convenient and it seems at first glance to be logical,
but the reality is that countries develop these things if it appears
to be in their own interest, regardless of these treaties. The bottom
line is the U.S.'s legitimate requirement for nuclear weapons
is wholly different from North Korea's illegitimate requirement
for nuclear weapons.
Another argument put forward by opponents to nuclear bunker
buster creation is that there should be more of a focus on intelligence,
air superiority and the like. Do you think such things should be
developed at the same time, or should one aspect take priority over
That is another one of these arguments that they make that seem
convenient but are irrelevant. You cannot look at national security
as, "one thing is more important than the other, and therefore
we should just invest in one and not in the other." Let us
go back to the missile defense debate. People say we have terrorism,
and that therefore we should not invest in missile defense because
the terrorist threat is greater than the missile threat. Well that
does not make sense to me-- you have to address both issues. Look
at the terrorist threat prior to September 11. We knew there was
an emerging terrorist threat on the United States. We had a policy
in the U.S. to try and prevent terrorism. We did not have an open-door
policy saying "if you have terrorists send them over, we will
take them," as what essentially was our policy with missiles
because we did not have a defense and we proclaimed we were not
going to have a defense against them with the ABM Treaty. Yet, September
11 still happened-- so even with a policy that was specifically
directed towards preventing terrorism, it still happened. What it
comes down to is that you see all these emerging threats, and you
need to prioritize, but you cannot ignore one for the other.
Speaking in regard to terrorism, since most terrorist organizations
do not have a defined territory and such, do you think that development
of new nuclear weapons helps deterrence against terrorist threats?
Terrorists are often non-state entities that operate globally. I
believe they cannot operate efficiently without state sponsors.
They are not going to get nuclear weapons without state sponsorship
at some level. So, where the nuclear deterrence would come in, in
terms of terrorist activity, is that link of the state sponsors
to the terrorists. It is not to say a global terrorist organization
cannot operate for a certain amount of time, but it cannot be effective
over time without state sponsorship. That is one part of my argument.
My other part would be if we were only facing the global terrorist
threat, nuclear deterrence may be irrelevant, but it is not that
case. We do not know what future threats we might face. What we
do know is that nuclear weapons exist and that other states are
looking to achieve greater nuclear capability. We know that throughout
history we have been really bad about guessing where the next threat
was going to be. We have no idea what threats we are going to see
in the next 10, 20, 30 years, and that is what sort of time frame
you need to think about in terms of nuclear deterrence. If there
is one word to describe what I would advocate, it is flexibility.
I do not believe in having a rigid national security policy that
says no low yield nuclear weapons because we do not like nuclear
weapons. I think that we need maximum flexibility so that we can
respond and react to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
In regard to funding for nuclear weapons development, do
you believe adequate funds are being put towards such development?
I think that asking for 15 million dollars to study and understand
what utility low yield nuclear weapons have is an investment worth
making. The money that was up for question in the recent defense
authorization bill was not about developing new nuclear weapons,
but understanding what the threat was and how best to address it.
I want to deter people and countries from being aggressive to the
United States and its interests, and I am going to do what I can
to maintain stability and avoid warfare. What I think largely stands
in our way of achieving stability and deterring aggression is not
seeing the world as clearly as we could. And what that prevents
us from doing sometimes is making decisions that are the right ones,
and I think this is an example--that people are so afraid of talking
about nuclear weapons that they will not even consider them. If
they are not considered, how will we know what role they may play
in achieving greater deterrence in the future? That is why opposition
to the few million dollars in question to study what roles these
[bunker busters] might have does not make sense to me, since it
will help us better understand the value of nuclear weapons.
What are your feelings on the utility of nuclear weapons,
since the radioactive fallout would likely affect the civilian population
around the targeted area?
Well, dropping 60 tons of conventional weapons does not do a whole
lot of good for the local population either. First of all, we do
not know the extent of radioactive fallout. You have people who
support low yield nuclear weapons, saying that they could reduce
the fallout, and those against it saying that there is no way to
decrease the fallout. You have two sides of the argument, this side
has their scientists and the other size has their scientists. What
is the answer to this? I do not know what the answer is. It probably
lies somewhere in the middle. You can probably engineer them so
there will be less fallout.
Is there an amount of fallout that is acceptable, given the risks
of not doing so [using low yield nuclear weapons]? It is all about
consequence/risk management. Ultimately, if you are in a situation
where you are even contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, let
us hope to God that the people who got us into this situation are
there because it is an issue of vital national security, one in
which the survival of this nation is at stake. If that is the case,
should we be worried about how much fallout is going to come as
a result of a low yield nuclear weapon dropped somewhere that may
or may not be in a populated area? I would suggest no, it is not
really my concern at that point. People act as if once we have low
yield nuclear weapons we will be firing them off all the time for
multiple purposes. That is not what they are for. It simplifies
the debate too much. What we need to consider first is when it is
legitimate to use force. We have used force too much in the past
15 years-- Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans. Were all these things legitimate
uses of force? Whether they were or not, we have to ask that question.
I would suggest that the bar should be very high concerning when
it is legitimate to go in and to kill people for a national objective.
Too often, that bar has been lowered. Once you reach that level
of threat is high enough and you commit military forces, you are
not about to just go drop nuclear forces. You would need to be in
a situation that is dire, that requires some amount of force to
protect the nation. If you are in that dire situation, in which
the survival of your nation is at stake, would you rather have a
nuclear weapon than not have one, if that is what you need? And
if you do need one, should we be thinking if there will be too much
radiation? That would not be in the thought process because we would
be so far down that road that it would not be considered at all.
If you are out there fighting wars where your country is not risk,
then you should not be out there fighting in the first place. To
me, you do not commit military forces unless it is a serious national
issue, such as ending World War
Submitted by: Matt Merker, Susquehanna University, 2003