Matthew Kroenig’s lecture at the Christianity & National Security Conference 2022.

Matthew Kroenig discusses nuclear deterrence, rules-based international order, and great power competition. The following is a transcript of the lecture.

Great, well thank you very much for that introduction. It’s a pleasure, uh, to be back here. I think this is maybe the fourth or fifth year in a row I’ve had the honor to speak here, and it’s true. My siblings are good looking, but um, I got the brains, um, so um, uh, at least some of them, um… So as Mark pointed out, I um, I… I do spend a lot of time thinking about nuclear weapons. I… I um, current, well, uh, and so, um… we can talk about that more in the Q&A if you’re interested, but I thought for my presentation I would provide a broader, uh, perspective thinking about U.S. foreign policy, really over the past 70 years. 

As Mark mentioned, like, I think all of you I’m, I’m a Christian and, um, for… for much of my early career these parts of my lives were separate. I had my religious life, I had my professional life. Uh, but I – in… in part thanks to Mark and… and the opportunity to participate in venues like this I – I have been thinking more and more about how they interrelate, uh, and um, uh, you know you might think there are some tensions but I’ve come to realize that actually I think by supporting U.S. foreign policy and engaged America, we are doing good in the world and um, I’m working on a book now titled Force for Good: How American Power Makes the World Safer, Richer, and Freer. And I… I do believe that the United States has been the greatest force for good in the world over the past 70 years and… and that’s what I want to talk about today. 

Uh, so um, uh, you know, you sometimes have people say well the United States… Does the United States really have a strategy in the world, or um, you know because of our democracy is it just you know focused on what’s going to happen in the next election cycle? You know, we’re focused on, uh, November. We’re not thinking long-term. We’re too polarized to have a coherent strategy, you know? We get in the Iran deal, we get out, um, and you know, you hear people say well you know China has a plan for 2049, you know?  

We can’t think past the next election cycle, but in this book I argue that actually, I think the United States has had a fairly consistent grand strategy, uh, since World War II. And sometimes, I think these debates of differences between administration are the narcissism of small differences. But taking a step back, there is a way the United States has approached the world over the past 70 years that is unique and is different from how, say Chinese Communist Party, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union would have tried to structure the world and… and so essentially, it’s a three-part grand strategy, and I want to walk through each, each of the three parts and… and talk about the results.  

Uh, but first, is creating a lot of different names. Uh, you can… we could debate the names probably for the next hour, but a rules-based international system… is it a rules-based system? A liberal system? A U.S.-led system? But, but, but basically creating this, uh, post, uh, World War II international system, uh. Second, inviting other countries to join that system, and third defending, um, uh, the system from challengers – those who would try to disrupt it or tear it down. 

Uh, so step one: building a rules-based international system. You know, we’re basically still living in the world that the United States and its democratic allies created after World War II. Uh, so after World War II, look back on the previous half-century, realized that didn’t go very well, uh, what kind of system do we want to construct? And so they did a number of things. One, they created strong alliances. The United States created strong alliances in Europea and Asia, two regions of the world that caused World War II and that had seen warfare for centuries before so, created strong alliances in Europe and Asia to keep the peace in these important geopolitical regions. It also developed informal security arrangements, and in other parts of, uh, the world, no formal allies in the Middle East.  

People are sometimes surprised to hear that Israel is not a formal ally, but strong security partnerships with Israel and other countries uh, in the Middle East… So, by creating these strong alliances, trying to secure the most important geopolitical regions on Earth, continuing in the security realm, the United States and its allies set up systems to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. So, the United States was the lead architect of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and has worked hard to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to both friends and to enemies. So we see the efforts now with… with Iran, North Korea sanctions, uh, you know, threats of force to stop our enemies. But the United States also goes to great lengths to stop our friends from building nuclear weapons. One of the things we do is we extend our nuclear deterrent and say don’t build your own nuclear weapons. You can rely on American nuclear weapons.  

Um, uh, also the United States has used its power to secure the… the so-called global commons, uh, to make sure that the seas, aerospace, cyberspace, outer space are safe for… for commerce, for travel… Uh, and we kind of take that for granted because we’ve had it for 70 years, but look back before 1945. The high seas weren’t always safe for international trade. You’d have to worry about pirates or enemy, uh, boats sinking your… sinking your ships.  

So the United States and its allies have worked hard to make the world safer over the past 70 years, and what’s been… been the result? Um, uh, so zero great power wars for, um, 70 years. Pretty remarkable. Uh, you know, we saw great power wars, uh, in every stage of history until 1945. Since 1945, zero great power wars. A number of people who die in armed conflict, uh, from the 1600s until 1945, uh, one to two percent of the world’s population could expect to die in armed conflict. Uh, now the number is, uh, less than 0.1 percent. Uh, so drastic, uh, reduction. Uh, you know some international relations scholars would say, well it’s just nuclear deterrence. Everybody’s been too afraid to fight because of nuclear weapons. I think that’s partly true, but I don’t think it’s North Korean or Soviet nuclear weapons that have been keeping the world safe. It’s been American nuclear weapons, um, extending deterrence to over 30 formal treaty allies. Now 60 percent of global GDP, uh, in the 30 democratic countries are protected by U.S. nuclear weapons, so I think without a powerful and engaged United States, it’s very unlikely we would have experienced this really remarkable peace over the past 70 years. 

What about in the economic realm? Well the United States and its allies after World War II got together and said, well in the immediate inter-war period, we really got some things wrong. There was a lot of protectionism, uh, trade wars, high tariffs, the Smoot Holly tariffs…  

In the United States, they got together and said that that didn’t work. We really want an open international system. We want countries to adopt free markets. We want to have an open economic system, low tariffs for your trade, and so they set up institutions designed to do that. The global agreement on tariff and trade, which later became the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, a number of institutions to promote free markets and… and global economic interdependence. And then the United States also used other tools, you know, for example when it provided development aid to countries. They would say, we would provide… we’ll provide you with this aid, but we want some guarantees that it’s not just going to be wasted. We want you to see a market-based reform in your countries as a condition for this aid. U.S. allies did some of the same things. The European Union said okay, if you want to join the European Union, you need to make economic reforms. You need to lower your debt and your deficit, meet certain free market standards to become part of your club. 

Now what has been the result in… in the economic domain? And I wish I had some figures behind me, but if you look at levels of global economic interdependence from 1945 to… to the present, it’s really remarkable, you know? There’s a number of ways to measure globalization. One common measure is imports plus exports as a percentage of GDP. So essentially, as a percentage of global wealth, how much of it is due to trade? And you know what you see going back to the beginning of when we have data up until 1945? It’s… it’s basically flat and low. A little bit of an increase right before World War I, comes crashing back down and then after World War… World War II, straight up, and then again after 1991 up even further as the countries that had been beside, behind the, in the Warsaw Pact, behind the Iron Curtain joined the free world, adopted market economies. 

During the same time, a lot of economic theory that globalization contributes overall to improved standards of living, and so you see the same thing in the numbers. 1945 60%- sorry. 66% of the world’s population lived in poverty. Now it’s 10% so still too high, but um, you know, billions of people lifted out of poverty over the past 70 years. Global GDP, the average, uh, per capita average standard of living is roughly five times higher today than it was in 1945. So the world is much wealthier today than it was before this era of U.S. leadership. Um, now what are other explanations for this? Well, some economists would say well, it’s, you know, it’s technology. It’s globalization. It’s the internet it’s… it’s cheap air travel, um, and I think there’s something to that, but where was, uh, the airplane invented? Where was the internet invented? I think this was also the result of American, um, ingenuity, uh, and still these are political choices. We do see countries like North Korea who decide to cut themselves off from this globalized world, but it has been the United States and its allies encouraged, are encouraging countries to liberalize their economies. Uh, that has led to political decisions. Uh, that again… it’s not just… not just the internet.  

Now, finally, what about democracy and human rights? And, the United States and its allies have also worked to promote democracy and human rights around the world since 1945, and it’s done that in a number of ways. The most obvious way was occupation after World War II. We occupied Western Europe. Our forces occupied Germany, helped them to establish new democratic forms of government. Um, decolonization… We put a lot of pressure on our allies after World War II to give up their overseas empires. So India got independence, for example as a… as a new democratic country, but, but many others… we also use conditionality when it came to democracy and human rights. We said okay, you can join NATO if you want, but you have to become a democracy. Part of the reason that Ukraine didn’t get in before the war but was a hug encouragement to Hungary, Czech Republic, other countries to adopt democratic forms of government after the end of the Cold War.  

Um, and then the United States has also led by example, and I think again, the end of the Cold War is the best evidence for this. During the Cold War, you had a lot of countries around the world adopting communist forms of government, single party, um, rule, um, after the end of the Cold War, many of those countries adopted democratic forms of government, mimicking the United States. So what has bee the effect of, uh, U.S. influence? There, well… um, we often forget before World War II, there are only a handful of democracies on earth. So the world is much freer today than it was before the beginning of… of this U.S. era. So I think it’s very hard to, um, you know, understand that the great improvement in the human condition over the past 70 years without taking into account in a powerful and engaged United States promoting security, free markets, and democracy and human rights. So that’s kind of pillar one: setting up this system. 

A pillar two is inviting other countries to join the system. Uh, and um it’s uh, anybody can join any country if you want to you know, not build nuclear weapons, not support terrorism, not threaten your neighbors, adopt a market-based economy, become democratic and human, uh and… and respect human rights. Welcome to the club, uh, so you know… Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were enemies during World War II. Within a couple of years we said, you know, welcome. You’re allies. Build the system with us. Same thing. After the end of the Cold War, you know we were pointing nuclear weapons at Warsaw Pact countries. A few years later, we are welcome… welcoming them to the club. Uh, you know, join NATO. Join the EU, uh, welcome.  

So I often get questions about U.S.-Iran relations, and you know, people say well you know why do Americans hate Iranians so much? Does it go back to the hostage crisis in the 1970s? And I say no. I think it’s Iran’s behavior. It’s that they build nuclear weapons, build, uh, missiles, support terrorism, uh commit egregious human rights violations. Yeah. I’ve said and I think, you know correctly that if Iran today said, you know, great news. Um, we’re giving up our nuclear program, we’re giving up our missile program, we’re no longer going to support terrorism, we’re going to hold free and fair elections, um, that there would be bipartisan celebrations in Washington and we’d say the same thing we said, you know to Nazi Germany and imperial Japan after their transformations. We’d say welcome, welcome to the club. Happy to have you. 

Uh, third part of the strategy, though, is defending this system from those who would try to tear it down. And during the Cold War, the one big one of course was the… the Soviet Union so this grand strategy was organized of… about defending the system from the Soviet Union. Um, after the end of the Cold War, the threat came from rogue states, basically regional autocratic powers that felt threatened by the system for a variety of reasons, built nuclear weapons and… and missiles to challenge the United States and terrorist organizations and so that was the focus of the U.S. national security strategy in the 90s, the 2000s, to some degree the 2010s. 

But now the biggest challenge to the system comes from, uh, China, and to a lesser degree from Putin and Russia. And so these are now the big, uh, priorities in the U.S. national security strategy, uh, trying to defend the system that our allies, uh, and we built over the past 70 years from Russia, which is trying to disrupt the system, trying to play a spoiler role in China, which I think really wants to displace this system and set up a kind of Chinese-led system. That, I think would be very different in all of those, although those various ways, and you know it’s an interesting thought experiment because I think, you know, some people may not be used to thinking of the world this way, but you know, imagine if Nazi Germany had won World War II. Would the world look the way that it does today?  

Imagine that. China overtakes the United States becomes the world’s leading power has the ability to reshape the international system to its preferences. Uh, would it look the… the same way that it does today? And I think the answer is clearly no, that the world we’re living in is a world that was shaped by constitutional democracies to fit the way that, uh, we think the world should be ordered. That works for us, and the results have been remarkable. So I think I’ll end my remarks there, and very much look forward to your questions and comments. Thank you. 


Question: Nathan Moyes, the Turner University. So I have two questions, a fun one and a serious one. So the fun one, how do you feel about the pentomic army as it relates to drones today? And the second question, the more serious one is just about defending the system. Uh, considering there’s a lot of non-conventional or non-state threats like terrorists and hacktivists, how should we address those types of threats? 

Answer: Yeah, and I think I missed a key word in your first question. You said pentomic, yes? 

Response: The strategy from the 60s, uh, I think, uh, General MacArthur advocated it, so yeah. 

Answer: Um, good. First on drones, um yeah, it is, uh, changing the nature of warfare, uh and uh, you know I think looking into the future, we… we can imagine, um militaries that have very few manned systems anymore. Uh, you know, the United States has always had pilots and aircraft flying the airplanes. Uh, sailors and… and ships and submarines. Uh, but I think, uh, you know, drivers and tanks… It won’t be too far into the future where I think a lot of those systems are unmanned. Uh, and you do have a lot of military experts who say “Why does the United States even continue to build manned, uh, platforms? That’s, you know, the old way of doing things,” so there will be big implications, uh, for that. I think both positive and, um, negative. You know, on the positive side you uh, you’re risking fewer American military personnel if they’re not there. On the other hand, you know, some people worry: does that make it easier for leaders to go to war? If you know, essentially it’s going to be our robots fighting the… the enemy’s robots. Does it seem like an easier, uh, cost-free decision? Uh, going back and putting in a broader historical context, and I’m a political science, uh, professor, my last book started with the Greeks and the Persians 2500 years ago and… and came to the present. But, um, you know, military historians, uh, say we’ve… we’ve seen various revolutions and military affairs that have fundamentally changed, um, international relations and… and warfare. Uh, so there’s the gunpowder revolution in the 1600s is the big one. The nuclear revolution in… in the 1940s… 

Many people, including me, suspect we may be on the eve of a new revolution in military affairs. There’s just so many new technologies coming online at the same time: uh, so unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles, quantum computing, uh, additive manufacturing to produce weapon systems, uh, and so we… we can’t quite see it yet, but uh, I… I think we may be, uh, on the verge of a country figuring out how do we put together all these new technologies for a new way of warfare? And we may be seeing indications of it on the battlefield in… in Ukraine right now. Pretty remarkable, the way uh, you know, drones are being utilized by… by… both sides. Um. And the second question… 

Oh, terrorism. So… So terrorism, uh, is… is a challenge. You know, if I was giving this lecture, uh, 15 years ago, it probably would have been the primary focus. I actually started graduate school August 2001. I thought I was going to focus on, uh, European political economy. I thought it’d be a good excuse to go to Italy, and you know, eat good food. And then September 11th happened a few weeks into my… my graduate training, and so I reoriented to focus on national security strategy. That’s the reason I’m… I’m in this field.  

Um, you know, after Bin Laden was killed, many people said oh, well the war on terror is over. It was really about Al Qaeda, Bin Laden was the leader. Now he’s dead, uh, we don’t have to worry about terrorism anymore. I was on the other side of the debate saying no this is still an attractive tactic for, uh, radical groups, uh, and the ideology continues to exist. The strategic motivation continues to exist and unfortunately I was correct. We saw the rise of ISIS just a couple of years later. You know, ISIS and Al-Qaeda are both on the back food. It has been a difficult operational environment for them over the past twenty years because of the U.S.-led war on terror. I think there are some people who say, you know, the past twenty years was a mistake, uh, you know, that period of history is over. Let’s focus on China. 

Um, and, um, I… I guess I… I still think that the ideology continues to exist. The strategic motivations continue to exist, and all it takes, you know, uh, God forbid, would be an attack on Washington, you know, tomorrow. On New York, tomorrow, and terrorism would once again be at the top of the national security, uh, agenda. So I think it continues to be a challenge and… and something that we need to take seriously. Other questions? 

Question: Uh, Nathaniel Kroenich, Regent University. Um, basically just wondering… so regarding the European Union, uh, know it’s kind of, like, a realist, uh, principle and whatnot kind of to consider both your friends and your rivals and whatnot. Um, and so essentially is… is them, like, gaining more power and whatnot and economic influence especially something that the United States should eventually become wary of, or is that something that we should definitely, like, allow and be welcoming to? 

Answer: Yeah. So I think the, um… and I mentioned my last book. So in 2020 I published a book on… on democracies versus autocracies and… and great power rivalry, uh, starting with the Greeks against the Persians, up through the U.S. and China and so, I think this is one of America’s greatest strengths that other people, other countries like us, they want to be our friends. Uh, they’re… they’re afraid of Xi. They’re afraid of, um, Putin. And that’s been a strength of democracies over the millennia. We tend to be better at building friendships and partnerships. 

Uh, so, so I think this is basically an asset. Uh, you know? If you look at the U.S.-China competition, one way IR scholars measure power is GDP. The U.S. has about 23 percent of global GDP. A little bit of an aside – people sometimes say the United States is declining. That’s not true. The United states has been between 20 and 25 percent of global GDP since the 1960s. We’re at 23 today. It’s… you know, where we’ve been for the past half century. Uh, what has changed though is that China is… is rising. So 20 years ago, China was 2 percent of global GDP. 10 years ago it was 9 percent of global GDP. Now it’s 16 percent of global GDP. So it’s closing that gap. 

Reason to believe that China’s leveling off or declining… we can talk about that if you’re interested but, uh, to the main point, if it’s the U.S. against China, you know, it’s 23 percent of global GDP against 16. A little bit too close for comfort. Uh, if you add in the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia, other democratic allies on our side, we’re close to 60 percent of global GDP. So working with friend and allies, we do have a preponderance of power to decisively shape global outcomes. Uh, so I think it’s an asset, but uh, not… not that it’s easy. You know? They have their own interests, and so um, uh, and uh is, trying to get them on the same page has been a challenge. It’s been remarkable, you know, three or four years ago talking to Europeans about… about China, they essentially said what’s the problem? Everybody’s getting rich. We want to sell them BMW’s. Um, you know, they’ve really, um, come a long way in the past few years, and we’re closer to having a common assessment on China. They’re not quite where we’d want them to be, but they’re closer and then the other piece is burden sharing.  

Uh, so yes we… we want to work with our allies, but they also have to chip in and do their fair share. And this has been a common complaint going all the way back to Eisenhower. Secretary Gates and the Obama Administration made his last major speech a trip to Europe complaining the Europeans weren’t doing enough for their defense. Of course, Trump made this a major issue. Um, you know, fortunately one… You know, war in Ukraine is tragic. One upside is that it has woken Europeans to the need to uh… that security, uh, is… is a real thing. 

Major war is possible in the 21st Century. So we have seen big announcements from the Germans, the Poles, the Romanians, and others to increase their defense spending. Finland, Sweden, two capable countries… this deciding to join NATO. So I think there’s some movements in… in the right direction, but still more work to be done because, you know, the biggest, uh, defense challenge I think the United States and its allies face is… is that we have to be able to deal with Russia and China. 

At the same time, Admiral Richards, head of U.S. Strategic Commands, has said for the first time in U.S. history we have to deal with two near-peer nuclear powers, you know? Russia’s conventional military is getting chewed up, but it still has, um, you know, enough nuclear weapons to end this meeting in… in 30 minutes. China is quintupling the size of its nuclear arsenal, uh, and so the United States could deal with both of those challenges on its own, but it would… would be much better if we have our thirty wealthy allies helping us with that challenge. 

Question: Sean McGuire, from Karen University. Um, I’ve heard a lot about Putin’s possible use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Can you speak to what those kinds of options look like? The only thing I have in mind is, like, the traditional bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What kind of options does he have? 

Answer: Yeah, this is an issue I’ve worked, uh, I’ve worked a lot on, and probably gotten more media attention on this question in the past month and in the rest of my life. I’ve been, um, quoted by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC, everywhere in the past month on this. So a couple of points. One, I think Putin hasn’t made up his own mind yet as to whether to use nuclear weapons. On one hand, I think he sees it as attractive, um, it’s because it’s… basically Russian strategy, you know, that they realized if they got into a major war with NATO that they had conventional inferiority. And so their plan to defeat NATO was to rely early on nuclear weapons, uh nuclear threats, uh, first to try to get NATO to back down, but as a last resort, using nuclear weapons to beat NATO’s conventional forces.  

And so they, you know, it’s part of their strategy the exercise for this. Putin has participated in televised exercises where he launches a nuclear attack. It tells you something about how Russians, Russian culture around nuclear weapons is very different. You know? Can you imagine Biden going on national TV, uh, you know, proudly press you know, executing a simulated nuclear attack? Kind of hard to imagine, but that’s what Putin does. Uh, and then they’ve build a force for this, uh, 2,000 so-called non-strategic nuclear weapons. So the Russians have, um, nuclear-armed torpedoes to go after ships. Nuclear-armed depth charges to go after submarines. Nuclear-armed surface-to-air missiles to nuke airplanes, um, nuclear-armed missile-defense interceptors to nuke incoming missiles. Nuclear short-range missiles. Nuclear bombs. Basically any weapon system you can imagine, the Russians put a nuke on it. 

So they have a wide variety of weapons to choose from to conduct an attack and varying yields. So some very large weapons, but they’re believed to have some weapons that may be sub-kiloton. So Hiroshima was 15 kilotons. Sub-kiloton would mean one, you know, less than 1/15 of Hiroshima. So a weapon like that, you use it here and Georgetown would basically be fine. So it would have a devastating local effect if you use it on a military base or something, you know, to completely destroy the base with one weapon instead of a bunch of conventional weapons, but you limit the fallout. You limit the damage.  

So what Russia could do is, I want to think they’re already using nuclear weapons, you know? They’re using the threat of nuclear weapons to deter the United States successfully, you know? The Biden Administration is carefully calibrating its involvement because they fear nuclear escalation. But as the next step, Putin could use a single nuclear weapon, maybe a nuclear test, you know? Maybe a… against a Ukrainian base and in the hope that the rest of the world would back down, and he might be right in that hope, you know? How would the Western Europeans react? How would the Biden Administration react if the nuclear weapon has just been used in Ukraine? You know, maybe they would say okay this has gone too far we’re not going to fight a nuclear war over this, but then finally, as the next step, you know, you don’t build 2,000 uh, of these battlefield nuclear weapons to use one. So they could use five, ten, a hundred against Ukrainian tanks, Ukrainian bases, Ukrainian supply lines to win the war. At least avoid losing the war. 

Um, so on one hand, I think Putin would like to do that. On the other, but why hasn’t he done it yet? He’s… he made these threats in February, uh, it’s you know, almost November, uh, why hasn’t he done it? I think he has been deterred. So I don’t think it’s out of the goodness of his heart. I don’t think he thinks this would be inappropriate, you know? He’s committing war crimes, invading his neighbors. I think he’s afraid of the consequences, and I think he is afraid that, uh, who know what would happen. Maybe this would lead to a big war with the United States. Maybe this would lead to a big war or with, with NATO. So I think he hasn’t decided. He’s on the fence. On the one hand, this could help him avoid losing in Ukraine. On the other hand, maybe he gets into a big war with NATO, that’s even, uh, worse.  

So I think the best thing that we can do is to play on his fear and… and the Biden Administration’s rhetoric hasn’t always been… been great on this. Um, uh, John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman about a month ago said, um, you know, if Russia uses nuclear weapons there’d be catastrophic consequences. And I said okay, that’s good, and he said for example, the radioactive material could blow back into Russia and I thought… You know, I… I don’t, you know… You know Putin’s perfectly willing to kill a lot of, uh, Russians. I don’t think he cares if some people on the border get, uh, radiation sickness. Um, but then a couple of weeks ago Jake Sullivan, uh, on the Sunday shows, I thought was perfect. 

He said, you know, there would be catastrophic consequences for Russia. There’d be a decisive U.S. response. And he left it kind of vague, but I think that was enough for Putin to think all right this… this, you know, could get scary. Do I really want a war with NATO or the United States? So… So I hope that those kinds of statements will… will be enough to deter him but I think there… there is a real risk, and when people ask me to put a number on it I’ve said I think 20 chance, um, I think it’s… you know it’s not likely. But I think it’s not… not zero. Other questions? 

Question: Good afternoon. John Lee from American University. My question is also on nuclear deterrence, increasingly facing North Korea’s missile provocations. There’s a sentiment growing in South Korea and Japan that we can trust U.S. extended deterrence even more if the U.S. would make a promise to return back U.S. tactical nukes deployed in Japan or South Korea in a similar nuclear co-sharing arrangement the U.S. has with NATO countries. And it’s popular in South Korea and Japan but as a U.S. nuclear expert, what is the U.S. take on such oppositions?  

Answer: Yes, so… so during the Cold War, the United States used to forward deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of its allies, and you know, so in Europe, you know, having nuclear weapons in Germany made it very clear to the Soviet Union that if you… you try to conduct a conventional invasion, you’re going to be overrunning nuclear weapons, U.S., uh, forces with nuclear weapons. It’s very likely that it would go nuclear, and it was thought that would contribute to deterrence. So we got rid of a lot of our, uh, nuclear weapons in Europe, but not all of them. Roughly 200 gravity bombs, uh, remain in Europe, and then we also had nuclear weapons for deployment in Asia, but then after the end of the Cold War, we brought all of those back. So there aren’t nuclear weapons today, but the United States does have a formal policy of extending nuclear deterrence to Japan and South Korea, and we engage in close dialogues with those allies. 

Uh, and we’ve, um, we’ve gotten better about it, and in fact a new national defense strategy uh, just came out today and said one of the major goals of U.S. defense strategy is to assure our allies, and that’s… that’s been pretty consistent for many administrations. So there are a number of ways to assure our allies. So one of the things we… we do is bring allies here and show them our nuclear weapons, you know? You want to climb around on a nuclear submarine, you know how it works. We have dialogues, uh, you know, what are the threats we see from North Korea? If North Korea used nuclear weapons, how might we respond? We deploy conventional forces on the territory of allies. 38,000 U.S. forces on, in Korea, I think today. So that’s another source of assurance. 

If you get into a war with North Korea it’s not just… you… American forces are going to be involved immediately. Now, so we’re do… we’re doing a lot to assure and… and so you’re right that some South Koreans, uh, not… not the… not the South Korean government but some South Koreans, have said well, maybe the United States should return nuclear weapons. And so my… my thinking on that is, um, I don’t think it’s really necessary for deterrence or for military purposes because do have other capabilities including, you know, nuclear weapons on submarines, on long-range bombers, that in some ways would be more helpful for a Korean contingency, but…  

But I do think assurance is important. So if there was a South Korean or a Japanese government who said, you know, we’re… we’re really nervous. All these other efforts you’re making… we’re not sure if that would work. We really would feel better if you brought nuclear weapons back. I think that’s a discussion, uh, conversation the U.S. government should be willing to have, but I don’t see any, uh, pressing, you know, operational need right now. Time for one more question.  

Question: Thomas Foster, uh national security student at Regent, uh, Lieutenant United States Navy. I have a question about China. Um, so has there been any consideration about a Chinese version of the New START Treaty? And given what’s happening in Russia, do we even want to pursue something like that given that clearly a nuclear threat can happen even if we have an agreement, and does that mean that policy… there’s… to back… go back to Dr. Patterson’s point, uh, at the beginning of the day, is there a certain point where policy is not the answer and more hard power deterrence is? 

Answer: Yeah, um, so I think there’s basically been a bipartisan consensus in U.S. strategic forces policy and essentially the consensus is strong deterrence, uh, and strong arms control. Uh, we need to make sure that we have a nuclear deterrent that can protect ourselves and our allies, deter our enemies. But we should also engage in talks with our adversaries if they’re willing to put limits on their nuclear program in a way that we think makes us safer, that we could actually trust and verify that. That’s also in our interest. And so you know, essentially, the national security, the defense… people are okay with arms control so long as we have a strong deterrent and the arms control people are, uh, you know, happy with a strong deterrent so long as they can try to talk and… and find agreements to reduce nuclear risks. So I do think that basically works. We should pursue both paths.  

Part of the problem, though, on the arms control side right now is China’s engaged in this massive nuclear buildup and refuses to even talk about arms control. So the Trump Administration tried to negotiate trilateral arms control, tried to get a deal with both Russia and China at the same time. China refused to even come to the table. We do have this New START agreement in place with Russia but Russia’s… uh, it doesn’t cover all nuclear weapons, so Russia is building nuclear weapons, like these 2000 battlefield nuclear weapons I was talking about that aren’t covered in the treaty. So essentially, you have Russia building up despite the fact that it’s in the treaty. China building up, and so I suspect that when New START ends in 2026, that’s when it expires, I suspect for the first time since the 1970s we won’t have arms control agreements in place. It’s very hard for me to imagine a new arms control deal that places verifiable limits on Chinese and Russian arsenals.  

I think we should try. I think we should talk to them, but again, the Chinese refused to even come to the table. And so going back to this bipartisan, uh, you know, two-track approach, you know, um, yeah. So let’s try this. I don’t think there’s much there, and so, yes, I think we do need to make sure that we have a strong deterrent and basically, our nuclear forces that we have today were designed in 2010, but the world is very different today. Much more dangerous today than in 2010. It’s projected to get even more dangerous over the coming decades. So I do think we need to take another look at our strategic forces. Is this really what we need, or do we need to strengthen them for the… the challenges we face? Thanks. Thank you.