Defending DoD Nuclear Matters

Summary: I stand up against against a false “consensus” to prevent a significant degradation of DoD’s nuclear support oversight. (Sorry of all of these acronyms sound like alphabet soup- but that is what being in government was like.)

Clinton DoD Divesting Nuclear Organizations

When I arrived in the Pentagon, the Clinton administration had the intent of making nuclear weapons, and the supporting organizations, a much reduced part of the US defense structure. I believe that this was due to a sincere belief that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, nuclear war was much less likely, and that this reduction of influence of nuclear support organizations would reduce the likelihood of DoD pushing policies that might start a future nuclear war. My own belief is that the US nuclear weapons capability had established “PAX Nuclear”—in which the likelihood of major war had been diminished by the decisive and overwhelming US nuclear response ability, and by the intentionally ambiguous US nuclear weapons use policy. (Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the face of a less-resolute Biden administration, may undermine that 75-year old “peace.”)

Nuclear weapons capabilities had been at the core of DoD since WWII and occupied the thinking and attention at the highest levels of DoD leadership: The Secretary of Defense organizations: the Secretary himself, Policy and Acquisition, also the Joint Staff, the Air Force, and the Navy (the Army had eliminated their battlefield tactical nuclear weapons long before this, though they still needed to be able to fight through a nuclear battlefield).

At the time I came into the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Policy organization, nuclear responsibilities in OSD were divided between the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy-ASD(ISP) (Frank Miller acting, later Ted Warner)/Deputy for Nuclear Forces Policy (John Harvey—my boss) and the acquisition organization: Assistant to the Secretary of Defence for Nuclear Chemical and Biological-ATSD(NCB)-(Harold Smith)/ Deputy for Nuclear Matters Fred Celec).

Undersecretary for Defense-Acquisition chaired the interagency Nuclear Weapons Council, with ATSD(NCB) was the executive secretary. The ATSD (NCB) chaired the Standing and Safety Committee in which key acquisition-related nuclear weapons decisions were made, as well as policy decisions about the nuclear stockpile. ASD-Policy had a seat at the table. I was often involved.

However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and considerable anti-nuclear weapons political activity, the administration of President Bill Clinton was implementing reductions in the importance and visibility of organizations supporting nuclear weapons. Under the Clinton Administration in the post-USSR world, nuclear weapon defense focus had become a combined nuclear/chemical/biological weapons reduction focus, with the idea that these weapons of mass destruction could be eliminated by cooperative threat reduction activities between the US and former USSR states.

Within a couple of years, an activity called the DoD Reform Initiative (DRI) was started by Deputy Secretary John Hamre, briefly led by George T. Singley, former director of the Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) organization, to begin cutting “nuclear” out of influence in DoD. I was assigned to represent Nuclear Forces Policy on the DRI Overarching Integrated Project Team (OIPT), that had representatives from all of the key DoD organizations.

Historically, many of the nuclear-related activities of DoD, which were not specifically in Service weapons programs, were done in the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), which worked with the national nuclear labs on many practical experiments and effects studies. DNA had been reorganized into the Defense Special Weapons Agency (to include Chemical and Biological). Under the DRI, it was now being restructured to be the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which now included Cooperative Threat Reduction, dismantling US and Russian nuclear, chemical, and biological capabilities.

Friction and Competition between DoD Nuclear Forces organizations:

On my first days in Nuclear Forces and Missile Defense Policy, I was thrown into a competition between the Policy and Acquisition sides as I was sent to a meeting in which Harold Smith’s (ATSD NCB) staff were preparing for him to testify to Congress on nuclear weapons issues related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Testifying to Congress was a Policy (my organization) prerogative, and there was some friction/antagonism between the two organizations, yet we still had a responsibility to coordinate on what DoD was going to tell Congress. Smith/Celec did not see the need for Policy to be involved in nuclear weapons, period.

Without getting further into the details, my (Policy) presence in these meetings was unwelcome, and Fred Celec, a blunt former military officer and former DNA official was none to gentle in telling me, the newcomer, that.

I reported back to Frank Miller after our first meeting, that I was disinvited from participating further in drafting this CTBT Congressional testimony, Frank called Harold Smith in my presence,
”Hi Harold. How are things? Wouldn’t you like to have my guy, Stradling, work with you in preparing this testimony to Congress?”…
(a smile)
“I knew you would. I will send him right down.”

To the uninitiated, it sounded like a very genial conversation 😉
Frank Miller turned to me and said, “Gary, go to the meeting in Harold’s office.”

As I made my way through the maze of stairwells and narrow passageways, I came to the main spoke corridor leading out to the E-Ring, where Harold Smith’s office was. As I emerged from the side passage, there was Fred Celec, with four of his assistants (some also IPAs/detailees from national nuclear laboratories), marching abreast down the big corridor.
Fred sees me and says, “Where are you going!?”
I said, “To Harold Smith’s office, to participate in this drafting activity.” He said, “You cannot come to our meeting!”
I said, “Frank spoke to Harold, and I am invited.”
We walked in silence.
So that was the beginning of my interactions with Nuclear Matters and Fred Celec, many of which carried some of that hostile friction.

So, with that background of competition and animosity, I found myself in the DRI OIPT, having the future of Nuclear Matters solely in my hands.

Most of the actions of the DRI OIPT were not relevant to my Nuclear Forces responsibilities. However, one day George Singley met privately with Susan Koch (also Policy) and I to explain that a “decision had been made” to eliminate Fred Celec’s Nuclear Matter’s organization and send their functions out of the Pentagon, down to the former DNA, which was being reorganized into DTRA.

‘It is a done deal, the other DoD organizations are all in agreement. It is part of the grand plan.’ said Singley.

Later Fred Celec came to me and expressed his concern at that plan. Obvious this was a reduction in his and his office’s status, but there was real work that was being done by them at the OSD level, in the Nuclear Weapons Council, and coordinating and giving guidance to the Service nuclear programs! Coordination between and direction given to the Services could not happen from a OSD agency. It was too low in ranking to get Service attention on these important matters. Fred said that he had objected up his chain of command, but that he was not listened to. They thought his protests were self-serving. I shrugged and said, “Well, I am sympathetic, but what can I do?” I mused about this with others in my organization, but did not get any clear direction.

Soon a DRI-OIPT meeting was called and I attended, with OIPT members from the Service and Joint Staff, OSD Legal, OSD Legislative Affairs, other OSD Policy representatives, and others. The OIPT Chair made the announcement that ATSD(NCB)/Nuclear Matters was going to become part of the newly restructured DNA, now DTRA.
‘Any Questions?’
There was silence.
Singley, believing that he had achieved consensus on this critical objective, then turned to other business.

I stood up, and asked about the important functions that Nuclear Matters historically accomplished from its OSD level of authority, and what about management of the Nuclear Weapons Council? How did Joint Staff, the Air Force and the Navy see the management of future Service issues that required the authority of OSD to direct or coordinate change?

After I asked this, there was silence, then the Joint Staff representative, a woman who was a Navy Captan’s stood up and said that she had the same question. These functions could not be accomplished with the reduced authority of a defense agency. The Air Force rep followed and then the Navy rep, all agreeing with my questions. It turned out that Singley had approached each of them separately and told the that it was all agreed, a ‘done deal’. They had rolled, until now. With full rebellion on his IPT, Singleyreversed course and Nuclear Matters stayed in its organizational status. The letter below was written to me a couple of years later by Fred Celec.

Click on this document to enlarge it for reading.

I am willing to stand up for what needs to be done, including in the Los Alamos County Council!


Paid for by Stradling4Council, Ken Shelley, Treasurer