How Many Nukes Should the US Have?

On the radar: Pincus asks the question; Abbasi posturing on 20 percent; 2nd term priorities; Reengaging on DPRK; Missile debris; British sub went down to Georgia; and Baneberry, 42 years later.

December 18, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Marianne Nari Fisher

Multi-billion-dollar question - The cost of replacing the nation’s three nuclear delivery systems will top $100 billion and require another $300 billion over the next 10 years to keep them operational. Walter Pincus calls for the Obama administration to tackle the “multi-billion-dollar question:” how many warheads does the United States need over the next 50 years?

--A new presidential directive is due to be be presented that would determine US nuclear force planning for years to come. The country should be watching to see if this policy measures up to President Obama’s 2009 pledge to “put an end to Cold War thinking . . . reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.” Op-ed at The Washington Post.

20% Posture - Iran "will not suspend 20 percent uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," said head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. Getting Iran to stop 20 percent production is a key element of the P5+1 negotiating position. Abbasi continued that Iran "will produce 20 percent enriched uranium to meet its needs and for however long it is required."

--“He did not specify what he meant by ‘needs’,” notes Yeganeh Torbati at Reuters. However, said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “This hard line doesn't bode well for success in the next round of talks." Full story here.

2nd term - “Arms control provides an opportunity [for the Obama administration] to achieve multiple important goals: further reducing nuclear arsenals and enhancing U.S. security, reinvigorating the U.S.-Russian relationship, stabilizing some aspects of broader U.S.-Chinese interaction, and saving money in a cash-strapped defense budget. Also, it may give a shot in the arm to global nonproliferation norms,” write Steven Pifer and Michael O’Hanlon in Arms Control Today. Read the full article for detailed analysis on how.

Welcome to Early Warning - Subscribe to our morning email or follow us on twitter.

--Have a tip? Email Want to support this work? Click here.

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: New on the blog: "Wonky hodgepodge on missile defense testing, CMRR-NF, and the B61 life extension program"

Engagement - “It's time for the Washington to try a new approach. Instead of talk of consequences, the U.S. should talk about reengagement and what it would take for North Korea to be welcomed as a part of a vibrant Asian region,” write Jane Harman and James Person in The LA Times. Full analysis here.

Unha debris - Some speculated that North Korea might try to redesign the first stage of the Unha missile this time around, perhaps by using a single turbo pump to service the first stage’s four engines. Based on imagery of the Unha debris, it appears that North Korea was did not revamp its first stage this round, notes Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk.

Event - “Strengthening the Global Partnership against the Spread of WMD.” Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins and Richard Weitz will discuss. Moderated by Andrew Semmel. Hosted by the Hudson Institute and Connect U.S. Fund this Thursday, December 20. 10:00 - 11:30 AM. RSVP here.

Hobbled British sub - British ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigilant was forced to dock for repairs at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. The sub suffered a rudder defect after conducting an Oct. 23 trial launch near Florida. Critics ask how the sub could experience a rudder failure only three years after the boat underwent a £300 million overhaul. Full story at Herald Scotland.

Tweet - @CNS_Updates: CNS Applauds Creation of Two Nunn/Lugar Fellowship Positions by US Department of Defense

DPRK and the Security Council - "With China in their current mood it will take weeks to get anything done and there is no guarantee that they will agree [to] new measures," to intensify pressure on North Korea in response to its recent launch, said a Security Council envoy to AFP.

--"China really believes that we ought to re-engage with North Korea," said a U.S. diplomat said, noting "The United States feels that every time we have tried to re-engage with North Korea, they basically turn around and fail to respond to their promises. And it gets us nowhere." Global Security Newswires has the quotes.

Resolved - Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), are pushing for a joint resolution against North Korea strongly condemning North Korea's latest rocket launch. Yonhap News has the story.

Tweet - @CTBTO_Alerts: 42 years ago today: venting of Baneberry underground #nuclear test, one of the worst US radiological incidents #TDiH