In early April, War on the Rocks had a podcast with Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct faculty member here at The Institute of World Politics. In this particular episode of the “Horns of a Dilemma” podcast, Will Inboden, director of the Clements Center at the University of Texas at Austin spoke with Professor Heinrichs about the size and capacity of American armaments and how nuclear proliferation has evolved post-Cold War.
Professor Heinrichs explained why the combination of her professional interests and the occurrence of 9/11 during her freshman year at college cemented her decision to focus on foreign policy and national security. As a result, Professor Heinrichs has focused on strategic deterrence, war strategies, and preventative measures against other nuclear states since early in her professional career.
Professor Heinrichs posed key questions that are repeatedly seen in statecraft, how do we deter mass war, and how do we succeed in a conflict with a great power if deterrence fails? Mr. Inboden noted that many times the greatest threats are those that are not always seen in the headlines, and he commended Prof. Heinrichs for following an issue about which she was passionate. Consequently, Professor Heinrichs has been ahead of the curve and been able to provide valuable service to U.S. national defense.
Prof. Heinrichs said that many assume that the effectiveness of nuclear arsenals has to do with the number of weapons. In reality, many of the U.S. warheads are “old,” and it is the advanced capabilities that matter. It is of vital importance to maintain and continuously be at the forefront of nuclear technology: as we have seen throughout centuries, weapons become quickly obsolete.
To understand nations and their armaments, you cannot simply analyze weapon programs; to interpret threats, we need to understand what nations are currently doing, what kind of weapon systems they are building, how they are going about it, and the ideologies of a given government, most notably China and Russia. Most importantly, there is a great need to recognize the national objectives of other countries.
Nuclear capabilities act as a means of deterrence; however, Professor Heinrichs said, it is vital also to consider that perceived threats are different amongst nations. In the case of China, the U.S. may conclude that only a few warheads are needed for deterrence, while countries such as Taiwan would argue for the need for more. It is a continuous strategic “game” to protect national interests while simultaneously taking into account what is and is not acceptable or too extensive to the point of no return.