The battle over cutting U.S. nuclear arsenal
An unarmed operational test of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2010.
February 17th, 2012
08:06 PM ET

The battle over cutting U.S. nuclear arsenal

By Jamie Crawford

The Pentagon is currently analyzing U.S. nuclear options under the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study - a process that could result in significant cuts in the number of warheads. And one senior Republican senator is sounding a warning.

"Obviously this is going to create a huge stir in Congress," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, said during a keynote address Thursday at a nuclear deterrence summit in Arlington, Virginia. "We will have a battle royal in Congress if the president moves forward with these kinds of plans."

As recently as last month, the Defense Department did not discount the possibility of further cuts to its arsenal eventually.

"It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy," the Pentagon said in releasing its latest strategic guidance review last month.

James Miller, the acting defense undersecretary for policy, told the same summit Wednesday that the Pentagon is looking at "a number of options" regarding the size of its nuclear arsenal, but refused to go into detail as no decision has been made yet.

"It is absolutely appropriate for the president and the Pentagon to look at those [lower] levels," Stephen Young with the Union of Concerned Scientists told CNN.

Today's geopolitical order is much different than 20 years ago, Young said.

There's no longer a Soviet Union, there's no longer a massive army looming over Europe, the current role of nuclear weapons is much smaller and so there's no need for a massive nuclear arsenal," he said.

The current U.S.-Russian arms treaty, known as New START, went into effect a year ago and requires that each side cap its strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 by 2018. It also limits each nation to 700 deployed strategic launchers and heavy bombers, with another 100 held in reserve.

But there is precedent in cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal below treaty-mandated levels. The administration of former President George W. Bush cut the arsenal to 2,200 warheads, while both the United States and Russia were permitted 6,000 each under the START treaty in force at that time.

Some analysts say any reduction below what the Russian Federation maintains in its arsenal is unlikely to happen in the current era.

"Russia right now is putting more emphasis on the role of nuclear weapons in its policy," Clark Murdock, director of the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN. Murdock said making deep cuts in the number of U.S. warheads is "just politically out of the question," in the face of Russian nuclear modernization.

Defense officials are unambiguous when it comes to the importance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"We continue to believe that U.S. forces play a critical role in 21st century strategic deterrence, primarily because they cast a long and very dark shadow over the decision-making of any adversary contemplating a strategic attack on the United States or our allies," said Greg Weaver, deputy director of Plans and Policy at U.S. Strategic Command. He also spoke Thursday at the nuclear deterrence summit.

For Kyl, who recently announced he will not seek re-election, concerns over the nuclear arsenal go beyond its size. He told Thursday's summit audience that he found the pace of modernizing the nuclear infrastructure "disheartening."

Paul Hommert, director of Sandia National Laboratories, told the same audience that the nation's stockpile is "the oldest it has ever been," with many of the weapons having been designed and constructed in the 1970s and '80s. "The net result of that is that there is a fair amount of work that is embedded in what's coming forward to us."

But in an era of fiscal austerity, with a mandate to cut $497 billion out of the defense budget over the next 10 years, the need to modernize the nuclear arsenal may come at the cost of the current infrastructure.

Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in July that the current nuclear "triad"of submarines, ballistic missiles, and bombers was not sustainable or even practical in a post- Cold War and budget conscious era.

Weaver, with Strategic Command - which oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal - said the modernization of the arsenal will have to take a lot into account.

Our challenge," he said, is to ensure that U.S. nuclear forces "can ... play [effective deterrence roles] now and in the years to come, and we don't know how many years to come."

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Filed under: Arms Control • Military • Nuclear
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Robbin Goal

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    January 31, 2013 at 5:15 am | Reply
  2. Bob Woolfolk

    The present administration has no clue about nuclear weapons. It only believes in nuclear desarmament as if the world will follow us to the end. Well, I do not think so. As an American, which I am very proud, I am not proud of this President who has done nothing to enhance U.S. Security. The Middle East is a mess. Israel is under more danger than before, and he, the President, still believes in disarming America. I am against U.S. unilateral disarment. I believe in a U.S. strong military yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I believe in a strong U.S. economy based on jobs kept at home. We have enough people unemployed because past and present policies have shifted U.S. jobs outside the United States. SHAME ON YOU PRESIDENT. SHAME ON YOU U.S. CONGRESS. And, now, you want to destroy the U.S. by flirting with the Moslem who hate us not matter what we say and do. YOU WILL NOT GET MY VOTE. DID NOT GET IT FOUR YEARS AGO, NOR YOU WILL GET IT THIS TIME. I want a President who cares about America FIRST. We have almost 10 million unemployed people, and the only way to solve your problems is to create more social problems as if the U.S. Government is the solution to all the problems, which you have created and allowed for the past 40 years. China is almost a ritcher country than the U.S., and why is that? Because you favored it and advocated it instead of the American Worker. We are a great nation. We do not need to look anywhere else to accomplish something in this nation. YOU HAVE SHAMED THIS COUNTRY. YOU THE WHITE HOUSE AND THE CONGRESS... SHAME ON YOU. And now, you want to be re-elected for another 4 years for what? HAVE SHAME PEOPLE. THINK ABOUT AMERICA FIRST. THINK ABOUT THE POOR HERE IN AMERICA FIRST. You will not get re-elected. We Americans, the true Americans will not vote for you or any other clown looking to destroy America. I urge the REAL AMERICANS to vote no this coming election and throw away all those clows who have disregarded this Nation for the sake of playing politics. I WANT THIS NATION TO BE MILITARY STRON. I WANT THIS NATION TO HAVE AN STRONG ECONOMY BASED ON REAL GROWTH. I WANT THIS NATION TO HAVE A CONGRESS OF SMART PEOPLE NOT FOOLS MAKING MISTAKE AFTER MISTAKE. See the real America. Get out of your office and do something right for God´s sake. DO NOT DESTROY THIS NATION. THERE IS ONLY ONE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, NOT TWO. Vote Republican and vote to support Israel. You abandon Israel, you will see the results; and you can see those already. And if Republics do not do anything right, get rid of them. PUT IN CHARGE PEOPLE WITH BRAINS AND EDUCATION, NOT JUST CLOWNS with big mouths and big lies. I oppose any changes which weaken our Nations´s defenses. Former President Reagan was a hero, but what we have today? A wimp at the white House. America will vote you out of the White House. NO MORE 4 YEARS!!!!!!, and get rid of Hillary Clinton too... Why politicians have to be so some dome and stupid? SAVE AMERICA!!!! THAT IS ALL I ASK TODAY TO ALL THOSE AMERICANS WHO TRULY LOVE AMERICA......

    July 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  3. ChicagoRich

    While I would love to see a situation where we could reduce our numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles even further, I do not think it would be wise given the current state of World affairs. All of our nuclear treaties encompassing reductions are with only Russia so far as I know. Nine countries are known, or believed to have nuclear weapons. The numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles currently deployed by many of these countries is secret, and only educated guesses can be made as to what they actually possess. Additionally several countries are working on technologies to intercept delivery vehicles. Not to pick on China, because they are simply doing what is in their national interest, but they have something like 3000 miles of tunnels to play hide the nuke in, and are continuing to produce both delivery vehicles and devices with only rough estimates of what they own. They are also very actively developing the ability to intercept missiles as demonstrated by their mid course interception and their methods employed in decommissioning old weather satellites. I am sure they are not alone, just further along than others. I am fairly certain that due to their mutual mistrust, both Pakistan and India are adding to their stockpiles as quickly as they can manage. While current treaties may reduce the number of warheads in the two countries that are known to have the most, and that might go a ways toward helping us to lower the probability that we end humanity in a flash in the short run, I don't think that doing just that much will save us in the long run. Clearly everything else being equal, the more countries that have the ability to start a nuclear exchange, the more likely that would happen. The trend is that more countries are developing nuclear weapons. We are still in a situation where another World War could end us, I don't expect that to change. This does not take into account other not too distant threats to us, many caused by the added pressures of our burgeoning populations. It will take enormous effort and eternal vigilance to save us from ourselves and put us on a path to somewhat longer term stability. Although getting rid of the easiest means to kill ourselves off by all countries would be a worthy goal, unilateral disarmament by one or a few nations will not likely save us. For the near term mutual assured destruction may be the thing that minimizes the use of such terribly destructive weapons the most.

    February 21, 2012 at 3:03 am | Reply
  4. blucorsair

    Articles like this offer more propaganda than constructive information, with statemients made by Paul Hommert direcof Sandia Nat'l Laboratory who said, that the US. arsenal is the oldest it has ever been! What Mr. Hommert didn't say is that our nuclear stock pile is still the most advanced weapons system on the planet bar none! With president Obama recently advocating a record $3.8 trillion budget and adding an additional $5 trillion to our national deficit in less than 3 years, the monetary concerns pointed out in this article are of little concern in comparison to the magnitude of the most expensive president (Obama) and congress( Democrat,111th) in the history of humanity! point is a simple one, "if it isn't broke don't fix it"!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:21 am | Reply
  5. blucorsair

    These talking heads have offered mainly rhetoric and little if any valuable information in this article! Paul Hommert made the statement that the US. arsenal is the oldest that it has ever beeen, but neglected to to say that the US. arsenal is by far the most modern nuclear arsenal in the world as compared to the former soviet systems weighing in at distant second! ...basically if it isn't broke don't fix it! With Obama spending like a drunk sailor who recently announced a $3.8 trillion budget which is more than the most expensive budget in planetary history, issues like this are a minor concern!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:09 am | Reply
    • Nick Wolf

      The people spending like drunks were your Bush administration friends. The Clinton administration had created a budget surplus which reached 300 billion at one point. This was used to pay off the national debt. Thanks to your nazi republicans the country is now heavily in debt and its jobs have been outsourced to foreign countries. If I vote republican, can I expect to see more and more Americans put out of work for the sake of warmongers?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  6. Iranacockuptheirass

    Better yet, lets burn your family and put you in Cuba so you can call it home....them talk your shit.

    February 20, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  7. Iranacockuptheirass

    Poor Israel is surrounded by the planet of the apes........You guys forget what atrocities they went through in WWII. You wouldn't be talking shit like you are now if it was then......don't forget it ass holes

    February 20, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
    • Random2012

      i hope iran gets into a civil war. it will be better for israel. because if yall dont create democracy soon and overthrow mahammad or watever his name is israel will nuke the living hell out of yall. Iran rise above to overthrow your crazy dictator. Im suprised by the large of amount of cnn viewers who have no sympathy.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:00 am | Reply
  8. Jon

    Deep, unilateral cuts made by Obama would be destabilizing and present greater risk to our national security than maintaining levels at current treaty limits set by New START. What works in nuclear weapons cuts is when the US and Russia gradually reduce their arsenals together at comparable levels. We could make modest unilateral cuts without jeopardizing deterrence. For example, if we had 300 icbms, 10 deployed submarines, and 16 B-2s, we could maintain 1,260 deployed warheads and 16 deployed bombers while also making substantial cuts to our delivery vehicles thus saving money in the strategic budget.

    February 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  9. Rick

    The USA arsenal is HUGE, and expensive, and for the most part un-necessary. Our long term negotiations with Russia on reducing inventories helps us and it helps them.

    neither side wants to keep such a large investment in weaponry that can be allocated elsewhere.

    February 20, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
    • RDI

      And Putin just announced his intention to spend 700+ billion on their defense. OMG...Obama Must Go before we're all speaking CHRUSSIAN before we die.

      February 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  10. Sayan Majumdar

    This report is in fact the tip of an iceberg. In fact informal assessments are being made as to whether the number nuclear warheads of United States and Russia each can be brought down to “three digits” (500 to 900).

    Such a quantity if deployed on Navy’s nuclear powered ballistic missile armed submarines (SSBN) appears to be okay if reciprocated worldwide. Here United States incidentally enjoys a distinctive advantage as through years it has successfully relocated a significant portion of her strategic nuclear warheads to United States Navy (USN) SSBN platforms operating from Bangor, Washington State and Kings Bay, Georgia. More importantly at least ten (perhaps most) of USN Ohio Class SSBN each carries twenty-four UGM-133A Trident D-5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) accurate enough to qualify as counter-force arsenal, capable of devastating enemy’s nuclear weapons infrastructure.

    A reduction in number of nuclear warheads will implicitly facilitate better maintenance and wider dispersal to ensure survivability of even land based mobile arsenal.


    February 20, 2012 at 1:40 am | Reply
    • Rick

      It boils down to cost. Nuclear weaponry is expensive to build, maintain, and upgrade. Frighteningly expensive. If the public was informed on the true costs they would be demanding the inventories be reduced.

      February 20, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
      • Sayan Majumdar

        @Rick, crude nuclear devices are cheaper than sophisticated conventional strike arsenal yet with far more destructive power thus much sought after by rouge and failed States.


        February 21, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • ChicagoRich

      I disagree with the premise that "A reduction in number of nuclear warheads will implicitly facilitate" . . . "wider dispersal to ensure survivability of even land based mobile arsenal." That seems counter intuitive as it appears rather obvious that if you have more warheads and launch vehicles you could deploy them to more locations, which everything else being equal, would mean greater dispersal and greater survivability.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:13 am | Reply
      • Sayan Majumdar

        @ChicagoRich, as safety and consolidation is paramount for nuclear stockpile, even more land based mobile warheads are likely to result in “clustered concentration” at secure waypoints.

        Moreover dispersal also depends upon strategic depth of a nation.

        In any case both your and mine divergent views and points have merits on their own.


        February 21, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  11. Random2012

    sounds like your making a threat maybe cnn should take your post down. read their terms of service. israel has some of the best military generals besides the US since the creation of israel you dibshit

    February 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply

    cool guys, no hard tackles in here

    February 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  13. Bach

    Why is no one talking about the need to maintain, perhaps even increase the arsenal not because of the Russians, but because of the ever looming threat from China?

    February 19, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • Andy

      Interesting point, but also there is no reason to think that China or Russia would necessarily deploy their arsenal at this time. There has only ever been one country that has deployed their arsenal of nuclear arms hasn't there?

      February 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • Rick

      China's arsenal is rather pitiful, and their delivery devices only recently have been modernized enough to reach the USA. For the longest period of time their old style liquid fuel hot start missiles could barely reach the california coast.
      The PLA isn't focusing on nuclear weapons much.

      February 20, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • ChicagoRich

      The educated guesses I have seen indicate that China does not have anywhere near the quantity of nukes that Russia and the U.S. have at present, and that is likely correct at present. They are, however, not subject to any outside verification that I am aware of and their actual expenditures on such weapons are basically completely unknown. Additionally they have invested in a vast network of infrastructure to make their arsenal more survivable, while the goal of building such might be just to provide a deterrent against a first strike, it would also be capable of hiding vast numbers of weapons from sight, leading to an uncertainty in any estimates. The U.S. and Russian governments likely have a bit better intel, but we the public are limited to educated guesses.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
  14. 28mAmerican

    It is probably true that ballistic missile silos are becoming pointless. Subs are not. Stealth bombers are not. We need to focus on first making the response time better, and assuming virtually all the continental us is leveled and still ensure we can make glass where we have to. Also emphasis on ensuring our subs are not compromised is of utmost importance. The threat of 100% leveling our enemies means nothing if they know that leveling our country would halt any retaliatory strike. Simple fact is it is common knowledge because of the efforts to sooth public fear of accidental release and shows on Military channel that documented the process of authorizing launches that way WAY more effort is required then should be considering the threats we face today. Russia used to be a sane adversary. Then we had to go screw with them when they would have solved the middle east problem. Now you can bet they are working with the arabs who beat them against the common foe. US. S**T will hit the fan in the near future. Especially if we are making efforts to disarm when its all a propaganda war that we are trying to fight here. If we are too broke to defend our selves then we should just disband and avoid confrontation and pull aid to our enemies and stop meddling in their affairs. I think you officials know that will end in bad days for you. The options are clear. I hope you make the right choices to be able to defend us and find a way to avoid the war you guys must see brewing. This is identical to how the germans did it. I wouldnt be surprised if the germans who got away are the ones who taught them or are teaching them to do it. Vilify the jews, slaughter the people of countries while making it look like your not, make weapons in secret. I mean you guys are the experts you must see and know more then me. If I know what is happening im sure you do too. Please use good judgement.

    February 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Reply
    • Random2012

      i bet you get horny wen you see a picture of hitlers mustache. i love da jews! one of the best countries in the world is israel besides the United states of america.

      February 19, 2012 at 6:37 am | Reply
  15. Hahahahahaha

    Disarm them the easy way!!!! Hahahahahaahah

    February 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply
    • Iranacockuptheirass

      HaHaHaHaHaHaHaha......over sea's the land of monkey folk

      February 20, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  16. Retired Floridian

    Same old Cold War garbage. Once someone is vaporaized by a nuke, you are gone. Trying to do the same thing 15 times over would do nothing but move atoms around. Save mucho bucks, make the world a bit safer, and cut the ridiculous over stockpile of nukes down to something adequate and resonable and move the tens of billions saved into education, or roads, or something actually useful and life enhancing!

    February 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
    • Random2012

      I love israel? Im jewish if you didnt figure that out. Education? it looks like you could use some? your probably like 50 going on 15..

      February 19, 2012 at 6:27 am | Reply
      • Random2012

        that was an accident putting the quetion mark next to da isreal

        February 19, 2012 at 6:28 am |
      • Mooney

        The IDF wouldn't even accept you on account of you're too fucking stupid. In fact, you might even be too goddamn dumb even for the US military.

        February 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
      • Random2012

        im exaggerating dawg my point is i want US to back israel thats all im saying. In fact they need to in my opinon think im crazy all you want this US election has a huge impact on the future of israel. We cant get a ron paul or a super liberal democrat in order for israel to be more protected. if your israeli i care about you and the people but we might just disagree on this. if your not i probably dont like you unless your an american or muslim who is pro democracy

        February 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  17. True American Patriot

    Make Peace Not War.

    Stop all the zionist wars in the Middle East.

    America is NOT a zionist nation.

    israel is our enemy.

    AIPAC is a spy agency.

    February 18, 2012 at 6:34 am | Reply
    • Random2012

      hey buddy. I hope the US builds a shitload of nuclear weapons. im guessing your iq is minimal but have you heard of israel its located in the middle east do you have an atlas or something. I went to a zionist camp in the US.. suprised. im 19 and jewish you piece of shit

      February 19, 2012 at 6:20 am | Reply
      • I hate you

        traitor arse bi tch – you should be shot.

        you're not an american you're a zionist pussy

        February 19, 2012 at 10:18 am |
      • Iranacockuptheirass

        Long live Israel!!!!!!!......You sand niggers do not stand a chance.......Everyone knows Israel wins....and they have known for 5000 years......sorry ya dont like it but.........oh welllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

        February 20, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
      • PETRA

        If our president is foolish enough to trust any country, then it will be our demise !! China and Russia will band together to destroy us, along with muslim brotherhood nation's. It's written Russia, because of paranoia, will strike first with nuclear bomb's, with China's help. America must cut off all these parasite countries, and use these funds to upgrade our nuclear arsenal. And take care of starving American's. We can not make the world civilized, we tried and failed. So now it's time to rebuild America, make her strong once more. Place taxes on all Us company's that out source. Get an oil reserve agreement back with canada, so the middle east can drink their oil. America exports oil, instead of incorporating it into our economy which would create cheaper gas prices. When ever gas prices are low, the economy grows. As all these crazy countries now have nukes. It would be crazy to get rid of any of our nukes. We only had peace all these years because of our nuclear strength. Any president that would weaken America should be ousted. The chinese are evil, they copies all the world's tech, most being American. And will use it against us. Russia and China can not be trusted !! To think 70% of our medications come from China, to trust that evil country will American health is CRAZY. The TROJEN horse in the white house as we speak, draining our resources. for the right time, so other's may attack. America should get back to grass roots, OBAMA open our steel mills. Demand all medication's are made in America !! Rebuild our infrastructure with the funds we give to parasite countries. Update our nuclear arsenal. P

        rotect us, don't allow us to be destroyed. To much crazy in the world, so we must think of American lives first !!! Cut off all funding to all countries, let the wannabe super power China pay.. God Bless America !! With the Anti Christ in power, it's all we have left.

        February 21, 2012 at 4:10 am |

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