While US disarms, Russia and China build up their military

In this week's issue of Defense News , Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, warns, "Stagnation threatens U.S. arms superiority." After noting recent tests by Russia and China of new nuclear-armed missiles, Berman writes,

Indeed, practically every declared nuclear weapon state is engaged in a serious modernization of its strategic arsenal. The United States, by contrast, has allowed its strategic infrastructure to atrophy since the end of the Cold War.

The results of this neglect are striking, as scholars Bradley Thayer and Thomas Skypek have detailed in a pair of studies. America's ICBM force is aging rapidly, and the retirement of long-range missiles such as the Minuteman and Peacekeeper in the years ahead will cause a major constriction in the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal, with no replacements in sight. Meanwhile, the U.S. bomber fleet has shrunk by nearly two-thirds since 2001.

President Barack Obama is committed to creating a "world without nuclear weapons." He may try to get there by leading by example. He chaired a rare head-of-state meeting of the UN Security Council last September which unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the elimination of nuclear arms. His Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in part on the basis of his no-nukes campaign. Yet, Russia and China are moving forward despite having voted for the UN resolution, and have also provided diplomatic and material support for the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin opened the New Year by insisting his country would develop new "offensive" weapons systems before it considered cutting nuclear warheads. He said the new weapons were necessary to prevent America's leaders from thinking they can "do whatever they want."

The emerging American strategic predicament is about more than the number of delivery systems and warheads. As Berman points out,

An aging work force and poor incentives for science and technology education also raise the possibility that the current decline could become irreversible unless major investments are made, and soon.

Berman does not go further into details, but the U.S. aerospace industry lost a million jobs during the ill-considered "post-Cold War" defense downsizing of the 1990s. Hundreds of firms left the industry with many simply going out of existence. A decade of small, counterinsurgency wars has stretched the American military without prompting any rebuilding of high-end force levels in airpower, naval fleet size, or strategic nuclear forces.

The same issue of Defense News features a front page story on how theater commanders are competing for the small number of warships capable of shooting down ballistic missiles in the wake of Obama's decision to cut land-based missile defense programs.

The result of two decades of minimal procurement of advanced systems has been a decline in the nation's defense industrial base, which will make rearmament more difficult, slower and more expensive the longer it is delayed. Meanwhile, new regional powers and peer competitors are rising around the world, empowered by the global spread of technology and industrial capabilities. Berman warns,

This has dire implications for American security and the durability of U.S. alliances in the years ahead. Already, many countries are beginning to think of the day after U.S. nuclear dominance.

And those thoughts do not lead towards a better world.