Keep It Credible

No matter how the new Administration molds the size of the nation’s nuclear deterrent, the leadership must remain vigilant in ensuring that the nuclear mission is not neglected going forward, says Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. “If there is one lesson, perhaps, that the Air Force has learned in the last 15 or 20 years it would be that … this mission is too important for the country that we should somehow allow it to degrade or decay through lack of attention,” Donley said Nov. 12 during a speech at Center for Strategic and International Studies on the Air Force’s efforts to reinvigorate its nuclear enterprise. He continued, “We need to stay focused on that, whether [the nuclear arsenal] gets bigger or smaller.” As operators of the nation’s land-based ICBMs and nuclear-capable bombers, Donley said the Air Force needs to focus “on being a good steward” of them regardless of their size. But, as any changes in size occur, it will also need the “attention and support” of the Defense Department and US political leadership in the form of strong policy and programming guidance “to ensure America’s nuclear deterrent remains credible,” he said. And to be credible, he noted, “it must be operationally effective and flexible, safe and secure, and reliable.” Donley said the Air Force’s efforts to reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise are meant to create “a bright light” that shines down on the nuclear mission and retains the focus on it. However, the added personnel and resources are not meant to imply that the Air Force is intent on “increasing the size” of the nuclear arsenal, he said. Indeed, he noted, “I would argue that our commitment to this mission needs to be independent of size.”