Nuclear Cuts for Today’s Security

On the radar: George W. Bush, unilateral disarmer; An appropriate time to review; Anti-containment resolution; a Fundamental review; Strengthening deterrence at lower numbers; Resolving the U.S-Iran standoff; Seoul house gifts; and What nuclear modernization looks like.

February 17, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Mary Kaszynski

Republican nuclear cuts - By the numbers:

--George H. W. Bush (1989-1993): Reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile from 22,217 to 11,511 warheads (~50% cut). Reduced deployed strategic warheads from 12,300 to 7,114 warheads (42% cut).

--George W. Bush (2001-2009): Reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile from 10,526 to 5,113 warheads (~50% cut). Reduced deployed strategic warheads from 5,668 to 1,968 warheads (65% cut).

A smart time to review - The media has been abuzz lately about a highly classified and byzantine process by which the Pentagon assembles options on size the future nuclear force for the President. “It is appropriate to conduct this review,” reminds Amb. Steven Pifer of Brookings. “The current U.S. strategic nuclear force structure is based on presidential guidance approved more than eleven years ago. U.S. officials ought to be asking what it takes today to maintain an effective deterrent.”

--Amb. Pifer also says it’s a smart time to conduct this review. It would be wise to have nuclear policy and strategy decisions in place to guide the recapitalization of the nuclear force, instead of simply allowing budget processes to proceed unguided.

All options on the table, except containment - Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman introduced a resolution calling for the U.S. to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and opposing any policy that would rely on containment. The resolution has 32 co-sponsors.

--"This is not an authorization for military force... if military force is the option to be chosen, that is a debate for another day, that is another discussion," said Sen. Graham. Josh Rogin has the story.

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An overdue review - “A wide-range of national security and military experts believe that this review is overdue and that fundamental changes are in order,” writes Daryl Kimball for AOL Defense. “The United States (and Russia) could reduce their overall nuclear stockpiles substantially-to 1,000 warheads each-- and still retain sufficient firepower to deter nuclear attack by any current or potential adversary.”

--”Now is the right time for President Obama to provide the leadership necessary to discard dangerous Cold War-era nuclear war plans, slash costly nuclear arsenals, and redirect taxpayer dollars to more pressing U.S. security needs.”

--Kimball’s policy suggestions: eliminate whole target categories, change damage assumptions, and drop the prompt launch requirement.

Quote - James Miller, acting Defense undersecretary for policy: “I do believe that there are steps that we can take to further strengthen our deterrence posture and assurance of allies, and that I believe we can do so with lower numbers.”

Tweet - @armscontrolnow: Fmr. Iranian nuclear envoy Mousavian on "How the Standoff Looks From Iran"

Refocusing on today’s threats - The administration’s reported consideration of a smaller arsenal is a sign of a smarter nuclear strategy, writes John Isaacs. “The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review stated that the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the U.S. and its allies rather than fighting and winning a nuclear war. Reductions of nuclear weapons in line with that policy would enable the military to increase its focus on the threats of today rather than the threats of the Cold War.”

Experts weigh in - “In the post-Soviet age can the US do as much—or more—with fewer nukes? The answer seems to be: Yes, we can.” Adam Weinstein of Mother Jones takes a look at the strategic arguments for cutting the nuclear arsenal.

House gifts - Also, at least 10 more nations [at the upcoming Global Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul] will separately pledge to eliminate their stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium,” said a coordinator for the summit. Global Security Newswire has the quote.

About that modernization talking point - A common refrain in conservative circles is that everybody but the U.S. is modernizing their nuclear arsenal. As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists points out:

--”That’s quite a stretch given that the U.S. has recently converted four SSBNs to carry the Trident II D5 SLBM, has just finished modernizing its Minuteman III ICBM force and replacing the W62 warhead with the more powerful W87, has full-scale production underway of the W76-1 warhead, is preparing full-scaled production of the new B61-12 bomb, is producing a nuclear-capable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is studying a new common warhead for ICBMs and SLBMs, is designing a new class of 12 SSBNs, is designing a new long-range bomber, is studying a replacement for the Minuteman III ICBM, and is building new or modernized nuclear weapons production facilities.”