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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

Updated: April 2014

This profile summarizes the major arms control agreements, regimes, initiatives, and practices that the United States subscribes to and those that it does not. It also describes the major weapons programs, policies, and holdings of the United States, as well as its proliferation record. This profile is one of a series focused on the arms control record and status of key states, all of which are available on the Arms Control Association’s website at http://www.armscontrol.org.

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

-The Senate rejected the accord Oct. 13, 1999. [1]

1996

- - -

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

-Recognized as one of five nuclear-weapon states.

1968

1970

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

-Party to two of the five protocols.[2]

1982

1995

Outer Space Treaty

1967

1967

Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

1990

1992

Ottawa Mine Ban Convention

-Stockpiles some 10.4 million antipersonnel landmines. [3]

- - -

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1982

CPPNM 2005 Amendment [4]

- - -

- - -

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

- - -

 


 

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Australia Group: Member.

Missile Technology Control Regime: Member.

Nuclear Suppliers Group: Member.

Wassenaar Arrangement: Member.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: Signed in 1998, entered into force in January 2009.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Co-founder with Russia.

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Participant.

Proliferation Security Initiative: Founder.

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673: The United States has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Major Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

Biological Weapons:

In the early 1970s, the United States destroyed its entire stockpile of biological weapons, which had been developed between 1943 and 1969. In recent years, the United States has steeply increased funding for biodefense programs, which some independent analysts argue could also lend themselves to offensive weapons research and development. [5]

In 2001, the Bush administration opposed and killed an effort dating back to 1995 to augment the Biological Weapons Convention with a legally binding verification protocol. U.S. officials said the protocol would be too burdensome on legitimate governments and private biodefense programs, while at the same time failing to deter cheaters. The Obama administration has not changed this basic position.

Chemical Weapons:

Behind Russia, the United States declared the second-largest stockpile of chemical agents. In October 2010, the United States announced that it had destroyed 24,488 tons of chemical materials, representing 80% of its original stockpile. On January 21, 2011 the United States completed the destruction of the Deseret Chemical Depot’s chemical weapons stockpile, hitting the milestone of destroying 90% of its stockpile. [6] However, due to environmental concerns requiring that materials at certain facilities be neutralized rather than incinerated, the United States does not expect to complete destruction until 2021, nine years after the Chemical Weapons Convention deadline. The December 1, 2011 meeting of the states party to this treaty reaffirmed the April 2012 deadline, but did not specify that countries that failed to meet it would be in violation of the pact. [7]

Conventional Weapons Trade:

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the world’s preeminent conventional arms seller. A 2009 Congressional Research Service study reported that, over the previous eight years, the United States agreed to $166.3 billion in global arms sales. This is more than double that of the second-largest exporter, Russia, which agreed to arms sales worth $74 billion over the same time period. [8] In 2010, the United States again ranked first, and made $21.3 billion in worldwide transfer agreements. [9]

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview:

In May 2010, for the first time, the U.S. government revealed the size of its active nuclear stockpile. It announced that as of September 2009, it possessed 5,113 nuclear warheads, including tactical, strategic, and non-deployed weapons. According to the latest official New START declaration, the United States deploys 1,585 strategic nuclear warheads on 778 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the United States arsenal of tactical nuclear warheads is approximately 500. Additional numbers of warheads are held in reserve. Thousands more are retired and await dismantlement. Under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the US will reduce its deployed warheads to 1550 by 2018.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

The United States Air Force fields 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The Minuteman III has a range of over 6,000 miles. Each missile is equipped with either a 300 kt W87 warhead, or a 335 kt W78 warhead. In the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration announced its plans to “de-MIRV” the existing missiles, removing the second and third warhead deployed on some of the Minuteman IIIs. Under New START, the United States will reduced to 400 deployed ICBMs.

Submarines

The U.S. Navy currently has 14 Ohio-class submarines, two of which are undergoing overhaul of their nuclear reactors at any given time. The remaining 12 are available for deployment, with seven submarines based out of Bangor, Washington and five in Kings Bay, Georgia. The submarines have 24 missile tubes for the Trident II SLBMs, but under New START, only 20 will be operational. The Ohio-class submarines have a life-span of 42 years. The Department of Defense is currently developing a new ballistic missile submarine to enter into service as the Ohio-class submarines retire.

All Ohio-class subs carry the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The Trident II was first deployed in 1990.  The Trident II missile holds up to eight warheads, and carries the W88, a 475 kt warhead, and the 100 kt W76 warhead. The U.S. fields a total of 288 Trident II missiles with about 1,152 warheads, which will drop to 240 missiles and about 1,100 warheads under New START. A life extension program is expected to continue the Trident II’s deployment into 2042.[10] The Trident II will soon be the only MIRV’d strategic missile remaining in the nuclear arsenal.[11]

Strategic Bombers

The United States Air Force currently operates 76 B-52H Stratofortress bombers, and 18 B-2A Spirit bombers that can be armed with either nuclear or conventional weapons, making them dual-capable. The Air Force will deploy 60 nuclear-capable bombers under New START.

The B-2 is capable of carrying sixteen gravity bombs. The B-52H is capable of carrying eight gravity bombs, or twenty cruise missiles. Unlike ICBM’s or SLBM’s, strategic bombers can be visibly forward deployed as an extended deterrent.[12] In addition to strategic bombers, the U.S. also employs several fighter-bombers that serve in a dual-capable role. Historically the F-16 Fighting Falcon was the cornerstone of this aspect of nuclear deterrence, carrying the B-61 gravity bomb. However, the new stealth F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, will replace the F-16 as the U.S. Air Force’s primary nuclear capable fighter-bomber.[13] The Air Force is seeking 80 to 100 new bombers for the mid-2020’s. [14]

Nuclear Doctrine
In the 2010 NPR, the United States announced that it “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” It reserved the right to make any adjustments to this assurance “that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat.” It was not prepared to make a declaration that the “sole purpose” of its nuclear weapons was to deter a nuclear attack, but added that it would “work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted.”

The United States has conducted 1,030 total nuclear tests, which is more than any other state—indeed, it’s more than all other states combined. The first test occurred July 16, 1945, and the most recent test took place Sept. 23, 1992.

The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against another country, dropping two bombs (one apiece) on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In President Barack Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague, he declared that it was the policy of the United States “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Fissile Material

The United States has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons purposes. The United States halted the production of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons in 1964 and ceased plutonium separation for weapons in 1992. As of 2011, U.S. fissile stockpiles for weapons total about 38 declared metric tons of plutonium and 260 declared metric tons of HEU. [15] Under an agreement finalized in 2000 with Russia, the United States is committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium. The project was delayed for several years, but in April 2010 the United States and Russia signed a protocol that amended and updated the 2000 agreement. Both countries now aim to begin actual disposition in 2018.

In April 2010, the United States hosted the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. The United States also attended the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, on March 26-27, 2012. Washington will host a fourth summit in 2016.


Proliferation Record

A close relationship exists between the U.S. and British nuclear weapons programs, including U.S. supply of the Trident SLBM to the United Kingdom.

The United States is also the only nation known to station its nuclear weapons in other countries. Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey all host U.S. tactical nuclear gravity bombs as part of NATO nuclear sharing agreements. These estimated 200 weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime, but some could be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.


Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

In 2002, the United States and Russia concluded the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). Under SORT, the two countries agreed to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by Dec. 31, 2012. However, the treaty expires that same day, freeing up both countries to expand their arsenals afterwards if they so choose. In February 2009, the U.S. government completed its reductions to 2,200 strategic deployed weapons, meeting the upper limit under SORT over three years early.

In addition, SORT did not include verification measures. Instead, it relied on the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty’s (START) verification regime, which provided for the United States and Russia to exchange information, visit, and monitor each other’s nuclear weapons complexes. START expired in December 2009.

In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as New START, requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLMBs, and bombers within seven years of the treaty’s entry into force. In addition, it restores many of the verification measures from the original START accord. The treaty went into force on February 5, 2011. As of September 2012, the U.S. had 1,722 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. [16]

The United States is party to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, but not to the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty. The United States has led NATO in demanding that Russia withdraw its remaining military forces from Georgia and Moldova as a condition for ratification of the Adapted Treaty, which would replace the original treaty’s bloc and regional arms limits with national weapon ceilings.

The United States is also party to another European security instrument, the Open Skies Treaty, which facilitates unarmed reconnaissance flights over the territories of all states-parties.

The United States has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin American nuclear-weapon free zone treaty. It has signed but not ratified similar protocols to the African and South Pacific zones. It has not signed the protocols for the Central Asian or Southeast Asian zones.

The United States has been a leading proponent of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty at the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD). During the Bush administration, however, the United States dropped its support for seeking an “effectively verifiable” cutoff, claiming that a verification regime would be time-consuming to negotiate, costly to implement, and ultimately imperfect, potentially impinging on the national security interests of law-abiding states while not deterring determined cheaters. This contributed to the deadlock at the CD, which was unable to agree on an agenda throughout the entirety of the Bush administration’s tenure. In 2009, the Obama administration affirmed its support for a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty. This was reiterated in a joint statement with the President of the Russian Federation Vladamir Putin on June 18, 2012. However, countries such as Pakistan have prevented negotiations on such a treaty from making progress, and as of this writing the stalemate at the CD continues.

Within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the United States has joined with many other countries to promote new restrictions on the use of anti-vehicle mines, but that effort has been blocked by China, Pakistan, and Russia. The United States announced in June 2007 that it was dropping its opposition to negotiations by CCW states on restricting cluster munitions. But the United States said it has no position on the potential outcome of the negotiations except that an agreement should “protect civilians while taking into account security requirements.” The United States declined to join a Norwegian-led effort outside the CCW to negotiate a treaty to ban cluster munitions that “cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”

In 2009, the United States declared its support for an arms trade treaty “that contains the highest possible, legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.” [17] Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation reaffirmed the Obama administration’s support for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on April 16, 2012 when he said that “this agreement would be an important addition to global security and stability.” [18] Talks at the United Nations to create an ATT are being held in July 2012.

Although the United States has elected not to join the Ottawa Mine Ban Convention, the United States is not known to have used antipersonnel landmines since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 2004, the United States announced that it would phase out the use of any type of mine lacking self-destruct or self-deactivation features. Washington has also led the world in financial contributions to global demining efforts.

In July 2005, the United States launched an initiative with India to repeal most U.S. and multilateral civilian nuclear trade restrictions on India. In 2006, the U.S. Congress amended its own domestic legislation to allow nuclear trade with India to proceed. The two governments later concluded a “123 Agreement,” which was approved by Congress and signed into law in October 2008. The previous month, India received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In 2011 the United States introduced a “Food for Thought” paper on the possibility of allowing India to join the NSG. However, the United States and India are still overcoming roadblocks to implement the 2008 agreement. The United States led a 2003 invasion of Iraq citing its alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. No evidence has been discovered to support these allegations.


ENDNOTES

1. The Senate could vote on the treaty again. The George W. Bush administration did not support the treaty. Since taking office, President Obama has repeatedly pledged to secure the Senate’s advice and consent on the treaty, but no action has been taken thus far.

2. The United States has not ratified Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons, Protocol IV on Blinding Lasers, and Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War. It also has not approved an amendment that extends the convention’s application beyond just interstate conflicts to intrastate conflicts.

3. International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2006, July 2006, 1,236 pp.

4. This legislation is currently waiting for Senate approval

5. Roffey, Roger, Hart, John, and Kuhlau, Frida, “Crucial Guidance: A Code of Conduct for Biodefense Scientists,” Arms Control Today, September 2006, p. 17.

6. U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, Army Agency Completes Mission to Destroy Chemical Weapons, January 23, 2012.

7. Horner, Daniel. “Accord Reached on CWC’s 2012 Deadline.” Arms Control Today, January/February 2012, p. 38.

8. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2002-2009, Congressional Research Service, September 10, 2010, 84 pp.

9. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2003-2010, Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2011, 89 pp.

10. Missile Threat, "UGM-133 Trident D-5." Last modified 10 20, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2013. http://missilethreat.com/missiles/ugm-133-trident-d-5/.

11. Designation-Systems.net, "Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles: UGM-133." Last modified January 18, 2008. Accessed June 3, 2013. http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-133.html.

12. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010.  June 2013, 72pp.

13. Kristense, Hans. "Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons."Federation of American Scientists. Special Report No 3, May 2012, 86pp. http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf (accessed June 3, 2013).

14. Reed, John. DoDBuzz, "AFA: New bomber program 'underwa'y." Last modified February 24, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2013. http://www.dodbuzz.com/2012/02/24/afa-new-bomber-program-underway/.

15. International Panel on Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report, 2011, January 2011, 49pp.

16. "U.S. Lowers Nuclear Deployments Under Treaty," Global Security Newswire, June 4, 2012,http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-slashes-nuclear-deployments-under-new-start/

17. Clinton, Hillary Rodham, “U.S. Support for an Arms Trade Treaty,” U.S. Department of State, October 14, 2009, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/130573.htm.

18. Countryman, Thomas, “Positions for the United States in the Upcoming Arms Trade Treaty Conference,” U.S. Department of State, April 16, 2012,  http://www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/rm/188002.htm