A Pentagon think tank that reports directly to the secretary of defense has hired a longtime advocate of a large nuclear weapons arsenal to review the Obama administration's move to reduce the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, military contract records show.
In a June speech in Berlin, President Barack Obama proposed reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal by one third, saying "after a comprehensive review, I've determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third."
The Office of Net Assessment, which has been run since its inception in 1973 by Andrew Marshall, 92, has hired the National Institute of Public Policy to conduct a study called "Identifying the Fundamental Assumptions and Logic of Minimum Deterrence, and Examining Them Against Empirical Evidence." The contract is worth $184,183.
The study, according to a contract document released Tuesday, will examine "proposals for a Minimum Deterrence policy [that has] a long history in the United States. The common theme in such proposals is that given the great lethality of nuclear weapons, few are needed to ensure the reliable, predictable functioning of deterrence. These proposals typically conclude that a relatively small number of survivable U.S, nuclear weapons and their launchers, measured in single digits to hundreds, is and will be adequate for all pertinent U.S. deterrence missions, including extended deterrence. These weapons are intended to hold at risk a small number of an opponent's soft and non-military targets. Minimum Deterrence proposals call for the United States to reduce its arsenal of nuclear weapons to such levels unilaterally or as part of an arms control process."
However, the proposal warns, "U.S. nuclear deterrence strategies have never fully adopted notions of Minimum Deterrence. Indeed, a consistent theme in U.S. policy for four decades has been the explicit rejection of Minimum Deterrence."
NIPP is run by Keith Payne, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for forces and policy in the first administration of President George W. Bush. In 1980, Payne co-authored an article in Foreign Policy magazine that argued that some forms of nuclear war were winnable.
"Nuclear war is possible," Payne and co-author Colin Gray wrote in 1980. "But unlike Armageddon, the apocalyptic war prophesied to end history, nuclear war can have a wide range of possible outcomes. Many commentators and senior U.S. government officials consider it a nonsurvivable event. The popularity of this view in Washington has such a pervasive and malign effect upon American defense planning that it is rapidly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for the United States."
Those writings and his opinion that 7,000 U.S. nuclear warheads were not enough led Slate magazine in 2003 to call Payne the Dr. Strangelove of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. In a 1960s book and movie, Dr. Strangelove was a military adviser to the president who argued for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Payne's articles posted on the NIPP website and elsewhere indicate a belief in a strong, and often large, nuclear weapons arsenal as part of U.S. defense. Marshall has also done the same. In the 1970s he was part of Team B, a group of hawkish advisers who argued that the CIA had provided then-President Gerald Ford with low estimates of Soviet nuclear capabilities.
Budget pressures have caused problems for ONA. The Washington Post reported Monday that some forces inside the Pentagon had advocated closing the office and saving the $10 million it spends each year.
Hiring Payne is characteristic of ONA's policies of seeking research from a relatively closed circle of office alumni and like-minded think tanks. Its largest contract is with Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, run by an ONA alumnus. This year, it also hired a firm run by Stephen Cambone, the former Pentagon intelligence chief under Rumsfeld.
Part of ONA's mission, however, is to hire consultants to challenge and test administration policies and assumptions. Payne's track record shows he has the focus that would do exactly that when it comes to reduced nuclear weapons arsenals.