Bring Back the Nuclear Tomahawks

March 26, 2018 | Source: U.S. Naval Instute, Proceedings Magazine, usni.org, May 2017, Admiral (ret) Sandy Winnefels and Dr. James Miller

In response to continued Russian and North Korean aggressive nuclear posture activities, Admiral (ret) James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld, Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Commander of U.S. NORTHCOM and NORAD, and Dr. James N. Miller, senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, discuss the role of nuclear-capable cruise missiles in  modernizing our nuclear defense forces to ensure a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent that protects the U.S. homeland, assure allies, and above all, deter adversaries.


The West has been frustrated since 2012 over Russia’s decision to violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a new ground-launched cruise missile. The treaty, which eliminated nearly 2,700 missiles on both sides, prohibits production or flight test of any such missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. According to public reports, the Russians now have gone beyond testing and deployed the missile, further violating the treaty.

As it should have, the Obama administration used diplomacy first in an attempt to persuade Russia to abide by its obligations. This approach was met with denials and ridiculous counter-accusations, including Russian assertions that U.S. missile defenses—deployed in Romania in 2015 and to be deployed in Poland in 2018—intended to defend against Iranian missiles are a violation of the treaty.

It is now time to stop scolding and up the ante. There is no reason for Russia to deploy these missiles. The Russians face no serious threat from west, east, or south—no nation on the planet wants to attack Russia. While diplomacy should not be abandoned, it will have to be backed by the only type of power Russia really understands: principled strength. In fact, the treaty itself originated from the use of such power: President Ronald Reagan deployed nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles to Europe in response to a previous Russian deployment. This U.S. deployment laid the groundwork for successful negotiation of the INF Treaty.

An especially elegant use of such power would avoid a tit-for-tat violation of or, worse, a withdrawal from the treaty. Rather, Russia should feel the pinch from a capability that lies well within international agreements (and a capability Russia itself possesses): a sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missile. This would require restoration of the Navy’s nuclear capability on Tomahawk cruise missiles in what was known as TLAM-Ns—Tomahawk land-attack missile-nuclear


Additional information on nuclear threats faced by the U.S. (and our NATO allies) and our defense strategy to deter them can be found in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).  Of particular note is the Secretary's Preface by U.S. Secretary of Defense, General (ret) James N. "Jim" Mattis.  It is also of note that the NPR strongly emphasizes that the U.S. remains committed to its efforts in support of the ultimate global elimination of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and that the U.S. nuclear defense strategy is designed to help achieve these goals.