The U.S. rebalance — or "pivot" — to the Asia-Pacific must be peaceful and affordable. Unfortunately, our country neglects the one aspect of national defense that can deliver this outcome: nuclear weapons.
As I entered active duty as a bomber pilot at the end of the Cold War, I was among those who questioned the continued relevance of nuclear weapons. The Cold War was over and, thankfully, we had escaped nuclear armageddon. I believed it was time to put away the bomb and focus on more relevant conventional capabilities. Lately, however, I have become keenly aware of the need for our nuclear force.
The United States won the Cold War by maintaining a credible nuclear force to stand in opposition to the Soviet Union. U.S. nuclear weapons defended Europe against a numerically superior conventional force. Missile-equipped submarines and the bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles of Strategic Air Command were the nuclear triad that deterred the Soviets from attacking. These forces were at the forefront of our defense strategy and received priority in both rhetoric and funding.
The U.S. nuclear force exists to keep a threshold on the level of violence. This is especially important when disagreements between nuclear powers move beyond dialogue. While numerous smaller wars existed in proxy states during the Cold War, direct conflict between nuclear powers always deescalated back to dialogue. It is possible that the international body politic that arose after World War II is the reason we have not witnessed a third world war. Yet it is also possible that has not occurred because the threat of nuclear holocaust is too menacing. More likely, it is a combination of the two.