A Plan B for Obama: Dump the Nukes

Barack Obama needs to get real about actual cuts in America's still-enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons -- or his nuclear legacy won't even match that of Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush.

So far, the president has made modest progress shrinking stockpiles and preventing new nations and terrorists from getting nuclear weapons. But these gains have been hard won, and his entire strategy is now at risk: Negotiating the New START treaty with Russia took too long, and political opponents slowed Senate approval.

Delay is dangerous. It threatens other planned efforts, including nuclear-test bans and a global lockup of all weapons materials. And it will create diplomatic havoc. Other countries agreed to stronger efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation based on Obama's promise to convince nuclear-armed states to reduce their arsenals. If reductions stall, so will cooperation. Countries will hedge their bets, and nuclear materials and technology will spread.

But Obama can regain momentum by executing reductions that don't depend on Russia or the Senate. The first President Bush did this in 1991, unilaterally eliminating more than 3,000 weapons and denuclearizing the U.S. Army and surface Navy. Obama should begin by taking limited measures: disclose how many weapons the United States has in its nuclear stockpile, step up the pace of dismantlement of the estimated 4,200 excess bombs (Bill Clinton took apart about 1,000 a year, George W. Bush just 300, and Obama could get to 450 easily), and immediately cut the deployed strategic weapons to 1,550, instead of waiting the seven years the New START treaty allows.

Then it's time for bold moves: Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe.

Such cuts won't hurt U.S. or global security in the least -- and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.


This article by Ploughshares President Joe Cirincione appeared in Foreign Policy's recent compilation, "A Plan B for Obama," offering alternative strategies for President Obama to advance his foreign policy goals after the coming midterm elections.

Foreign Policy