Not Just the Air Force

Within the Department of Defense as a whole, there has been a “loss of attention and focus” on the nuclear deterrence mission with “some of the same forces” at work that impacted the quality of the Air Force’s nuclear stewardship, the task on nuclear weapons management reported yesterday in its newly issued phase 2 report (full document, caution, large file). Indeed, within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, there is “widespread fragmentation, dispersal of responsibility, and weakening of authorities” related to the nuclear mission and nuclear weapons management, the task force reported. These issues are serious because they reflect “a failure to appreciate the larger role of deterrence” to the security of the US and its allies who rely on the protective US umbrella, the task force said. To stem the slide, strong leadership must come from the higher levels of the DOD—as well as the White House, the task force said. As a result, the task force, which is chaired by former DOD and Energy Department czar James Schlesinger, has called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to establish a new office of the assistant secretary of defense for deterrence within OSD’s policy shop to consolidate oversight of nuclear matters at the OSD level. Further, the role of DOD’s Nuclear Weapons Council, chaired by the deputy defense secretary, should be expanded to include “issues involving the full range of nuclear capabilities, including weapons, delivery systems, infrastructure, policy implementation, and resources,” the panel said. And, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should also designate a flag-level officer on the Joint Staff “whose sole focus is the nuclear mission,” the task force said.