The Future of Nuclear Weapons: Progress and Pragmatism

June 21, 2012

In a time of shifting security priorities and fiscal constraints, the list of military leaders and bipartisan security experts who say United States security would be better-served by a smaller nuclear arsenal continues to grow. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers the implementation of the New START Treaty and the administration prepares to cut the long-range nuclear arsenal further through negotiations with Russia, the experts set the record straight on what 21st-century deterrence actually requires – and where the resources saved can better address our security.

New START is working for strategic stability, U.S. knowledge of Russian forces.  The American Security Project’s Terri Lodge writes in the Hill:  “there are rumblings that some Senators are unhappy with nuclear weapons funding provisions and will seek to halt New START implementation as a result. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a New START hearing this week. The hearing will show that the Treaty, regardless of funding issues, deserves support” – because it enhances U.S. knowledge of Russian forces and plans, cuts Russia’s arsenal, and increases predictability – while allowing U.S. modernization and missile defense. [Terri Lodge, 6/20/12]

Bipartisan leaders say U.S. arsenal can go lower, increase stability and save resources. General James Cartwright (ret), former commander of U.S. strategic forces last month joined a bipartisan group of security leaders in saying our nuclear arsenal can safely be cut:  “General Cartwright said that the United States’ nuclear deterrence could be guaranteed with a total arsenal of 900 warheads, and with only half of them deployed at any one time. Even those in the field would be taken off hair triggers, requiring 24 to 72 hours for launching, to reduce the chance of accidental war. That arsenal would be a significant cut from the current agreement to limit Russia and the United States to 1,550 deployed warheads each, down from 2,200, within six years.” The report was also signed by “senior national security figures, including Richard Burt, a former chief nuclear arms negotiator; Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska; Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador to Russia; and Gen. John J. Sheehan, who held senior NATO positions before retiring from active duty.” In addition, other security leaders have spoken out:

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-MI) explained earlier this year, “The Cold War is over. I just think there’s a way over-reliance and cost that goes into our nuclear weapon system… It’s like the nuclear weapon, it’s totally useless. It can’t be used except to accomplish some other goal, then it’s used, used to deter… I’ve always believed that nuclear weapons are way overdone, we have way more than are needed to carry out their mission. Their mission can’t be to use them. They can only be to deter, or to achieve some form of deterrence.” [Carl Levin,1/26/12]

Ambassador Richard Burt, who served as the chief negotiator for the START Treaty in the George H.W. Bush administration explains: “In a new international landscape, the role of nuclear weapons has changed. For better or for worse, nuclear weapons contributed to stability through deterrence, but now there is the competition between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration, making the world a more dangerous place.”  [Richard Burt, 2/8/10]

Colin Powell, former national security advisor and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said while he was Secretary of State:We have every incentive to reduce the number. These [nuclear weapons] are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from O[perations] and M[aintenance] investments. They take away from lots of things. There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the Nation.” [Colin Powell, 07/09/02]

[NY Times, 5/16/12]

Next step: pursue reductions through pragmatic, interest-based negotiations with Russia.  The Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Security Newswire reported yesterday, “The Obama administration intends to pursue a deal with Russia enabling a significant decrease to the quantity of U.S. long-range deployed nuclear warheads, senior U.S. government insiders told Kyodo News on Friday (see GSN, May 18). Curbs under consideration could lower the size of the nation’s launch-ready nuclear force to between 1,000 and 1,100 weapons, according to atomic specialists associated with the related U.S. government entities. Such a change would go significantly beyond the 1,550 strategic warhead limit established by the New START arms control accord with Russia. Finalization and formal announcement of the plan could take place in the near future, possibly before July, senior U.S. government personnel said.” [GSN, 6/20/12]

What We’re Reading

Egyptian officials delayed the announcement of the winner of its presidential election runoff  for 48 hours.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak argued for the extension of sanctions against Iran should and ‘preparations for other options.’

The CIA is reported to be aiding the Syrian rebels by helping them receive arms through southern Turkey.

A Syrian fighter pilot defected to an air base in Jordan and requested asylum.

A judge in Pakistan ordered the arrest of Makhdoom Shahabuddin, President Zardari’s favored candidate for prime minister.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is meeting UK Prime Minister David Cameron, after he pronounces that the UK will be a ‘resolute friend’ to her and Burma.

Putin promised further reforms and privatization, amidst warning the opposition that he would not let protests develop into civil unrest.

A South African couple was released after being held hostage by Somali pirates for 20 months.

Uruguay’s government intends to legalize the sale of marijuana to its citizens in order to fight a growing crime problem; it would be the first country in the world to do so.

The Argentine government sent security forces to break the strike of truck drivers, who are demanding pay raises.

Commentary

Paul Salem argues that Hezbollah has lost its footing as a result of the Arab Spring.

Bruce Jones explores the downfall of the Rio environmental talks.

David Ignatius examines the role of drones in Pakistan and its relations to U.S. security and diplomatic strategies.

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