ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Weapons Research & Development

President’s ‘16 Budget Calls for Unsustainable, Unnecessary Nuclear Weapons Spending

On February 2 the Obama administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2016 federal budget request. The request is the administration’s biggest down payment to date on a planned unaffordable and unsustainable nuclear spending binge to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure. The administration’s budget proposal includes significant increases for several strategic nuclear weapons systems, including increase for some programs above what was projected in the FY 2015 budget request (see the chart). Most notably, the budget accelerates...

CBO: Nuclear Weapons Still Expensive

By Kingston Reif A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released today estimates that the United States will spend $348 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade, or 5 percent to 6 percent of the total costs of the administration’s plans for national defense. But this is just the tip of the coming budget bow wave. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to recent report of the National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. This planned spending encompasses a massive rebuild of all three legs of the existing nuclear...

America Mustn’t Overspend on its Nukes

In his Nov. 25 New York Times op-ed “ America Mustn’t Neglect Its Nukes ,” Elbridge Colby urges the nation to stop aspiring to eliminate nuclear weapons, stop worrying about nuclear deterrence, and willfully pay the trillion dollar price tag to replace the entire nuclear triad. Colby complains that apathy and even hostility toward the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy from prominent voices in and out of government is part of the problem. In a similar vein, Robert Spalding complains in the Washington Post that “it erodes morale and encourages perpetually low funding...

Nuclear Weapons Budget Still Ripe for Savings

Current and former U.S. government officials and military leaders have repeatedly stated that present plans to rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal – which could add up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years – are unaffordable given existing budget constraints. This massive price tag comes at a time when other national security bills are coming due, Congress has mandated reductions in planned military spending, and the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security. Given this state of affairs, reshaping the current nuclear spending blueprint to comport with the fiscal and...

Congress Leaves Nuclear Issues in Limbo

Lawmakers left Washington for November’s congressional elections without resolving a host of key nuclear weapons policy and budget decisions for fiscal year 2015.

November 2014

By Kingston Reif

Lawmakers left Washington for November’s congressional elections without resolving a host of key nuclear weapons policy and budget decisions for fiscal year 2015, which began Oct. 1.

Congress failed to pass a final National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping bill that establishes spending ceilings and legislative guidelines for Defense Department programs and the activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The initial House and Senate versions of the legislation contain different policy provisions on issues ranging from implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

Congress also did not approve any fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills, opting instead to extend the previous fiscal year’s funding levels until Dec. 11. The absence of new legislation leaves unsettled a disagreement between the House and Senate about whether to fund the administration’s plans for a new fleet of nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials continue to raise doubts about the feasibility of the overall U.S. nuclear modernization plan in the face of projected military spending reductions mandated by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Plans to maintain and rebuild the nuclear triad of air-, land-, and sea-based weapons and their associated warheads could cost $355 billion over the next decade, according to a December 2013 analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The USS Wyoming, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on June 28.  The Navy is planning to replace the Ohio-class submarines, but the cost of the replacement is prompting a debate in Washington. (U.S. Navy)Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told reporters on the sidelines of the Air Force Association’s annual meeting on Sept. 17 that nuclear modernization is “a big challenge” and “a lot of things [will] have to be paid for at the same time,” according to the Breaking Defense website. Two weeks later, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stated at a press briefing that the country must begin a debate about how to pay for the cost of building a fleet of 12 new, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines. He added that if the Navy is forced to foot the entire bill, it would “break something else” in the Navy’s budget.

In comments at an Oct. 7 roundtable discussion with reporters, Andrew Weber, outgoing assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, said the growing cost of nuclear weapons “causes us to have to take a hard look at the priorities. What are the trade-offs? Is [the] current strategy affordable and executable, or does it need to be modified?”

The White House is currently overseeing an interagency review of the multibillion-dollar modernization plans, which will inform the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. (See ACT, September 2014.)

House GOP Targets New START

The House version of the defense authorization bill seeks to prohibit funding to implement New START reductions until Russian armed forces “are no longer illegally occupying Ukrainian territory” and Russia “is respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” The bill would also condition funding for New START on a return by Moscow to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaties.

The U.S. State Department determined earlier this year that Russia is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2014.) Russia suspended its implementation of the CFE Treaty in December 2007.

The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill on May 22 by a vote of 325-98. The next day, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its own version, which does not place constraints on New START implementation. The full Senate has yet to debate the committee measure.

The Republican majority in the House has sought to legislate curbs on implementation of New START in every defense authorization bill it has passed since the treaty entered into force in 2011. But the Democratic-led Senate successfully watered down or blocked these efforts in the final version of the bills.

The pending House legislation also seeks to place certain restrictions on the Pentagon’s and the NNSA’s nuclear material security cooperation programs with Russia (see page 28). In addition, it requires the maintenance of 450 operational Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. The provision does not include an end date for that requirement.

The Senate bill, on the other hand, does not restrict nuclear security cooperation activities with Russia. The Senate legislation also does not include a directive on how many ICBM silos the Pentagon must keep.

The schedule for final passage of the defense authorization bill remains uncertain. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in late September that he expects Congress to pass a bill when lawmakers return during a postelection session.

Levin also said that members and staff of his committee and its House counterpart have begun meeting behind closed doors to discuss reconciling differences between the two bills.

New Cruise Missile in Doubt

Meanwhile, the House and Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittees allotted different amounts for the ALCM warhead life extension program for fiscal year 2015.

The Senate subcommittee did not fund NNSA’s $9.4 million request to study refurbishment of the warhead, citing concerns that the Air Force has yet to identify sufficient funding to design and build a new cruise missile to deliver a life-extended warhead. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed the new missile program by three years.

In contrast, the House of Representatives approved $17 million for the study of the cruise missile warhead.

The fiscal year 2015 appropriations legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on Sept. 19 funds all government programs at last year’s levels from Oct. 1 to Dec. 11. According to a congressional staffer, the NNSA cannot spend money on the ALCM warhead study under the law, known as a continuing resolution, because the program is considered “a new start” that was not funded in fiscal year 2014.

At the Oct. 7 discussion, Weber said that the administration is examining whether the United States could “live with perhaps either delaying or forgoing the follow-on to the ALCM,” given that the B61 gravity bomb is undergoing a major upgrade.

It is unclear what kind of appropriations legislation Congress will pass once the current legislation expires on Dec. 11. One option is to approve another short-term continuing resolution. Another option, which Congress chose last year, is to pass an omnibus appropriations bill that provides new funding for Defense Department and NNSA programs.

Posted: December 31, 1969

The Unaffordable Arsenal: Reducing the Costs of the Bloated U.S. Nuclear Stockpile

The United States currently plans to spend some $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its Cold War-era nuclear arsenal over the next decade, even as the overall U.S. defense budget is declining and U.S. military planners and the president have determined that the United States can deter nuclear threats against the United States and its allies with far fewer nuclear weapons.

Posted: December 31, 1969

SECTION 2: Nuclear Reductions Make the United States Safer


“Arms control treaties have and continue to reduce the likelihood of nuclear conflict with Russia.”50
                                —Admiral C. D. Haney, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, February 2014

Table of Contents

Since the 1960s, U.S. military leaders have determined time and again that nuclear stockpiles are larger than needed to maintain the security of the United States, its allies and friends. These arsenal reductions have encouraged corresponding reductions by Russia, thereby lowering the nuclear threat from the only nation capable of ending the United States as we know it. Moreover, U.S. reductions have helped build international support for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to other states or terrorist organizations, a growing threat to U.S. security. And by avoiding the production of new weapons, arms reductions save money, a key benefit at a time of fiscal pressures.

Enhancing U.S. national security by verifiably reducing superpower nuclear arsenals—a counter-intuitive idea to some—has a long bipartisan tradition.

Since the late-1960s, U.S. presidents beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson have pursued and signed bilateral agreements mandating verifiable limits and reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all contributed to reducing the nuclear threat through the negotiation of nuclear arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and later with Russia.

In certain periods of time, the force reductions were very significant. During the George H. W. Bush administration, from 1989 to 1994, the U.S. nuclear stockpile dropped by 50 percent, from about 22,00 to 11,000 warheads, the most rapid nuclear arsenal reduction in U.S. history. During the George W. Bush administration, from 2001 to 2009, the stockpile dropped another 50 percent, from about 10,000 to 5,000.

As Reagan said in 1986, “It is my fervent goal and hope…that we will some day no longer have to rely on nuclear weapons to deter aggression and assure world peace. To that end the United States is now engaged in a serious and sustained effort to negotiate major reductions in levels of offensive nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of eliminating these weapons from the face of the earth.”

President Barack Obama negotiated the New START Treaty with Russia, signed in 2010, and has called for another round of bilateral reductions beyond New START. As President Obama said in Berlin in June 2013, “we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.”

Some members of Congress, however, claim that arms reductions have gone far enough, and, despite their long history of success, should not continue. Some even suggest that the United States should halt the implementation of New START.

However, New START establishes predictability regarding U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, which is essential especially during times of tension. The pursuit of additional arms reductions would also have important benefits.
In June 2013 after an extensive interagency review of nuclear deterrence requirements, U.S. military leaders concluded, that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be “more than adequate” to meet security objectives when New START is fully implemented in 2018, and the force can be reduced by up to one-third, from 1,550 New START-accountable deployed strategic warheads to about 1,000.[51]

Additional U.S.-Russian reductions would draw down the largest nuclear force that could be directed against the United States. At the same time, the possibility of a nuclear attack from Russia is exceedingly remote, and, as of September 2014, Washington deployed over 200 strategic delivery vehicles more than Moscow.[52] As the new guidance states, “the need for numerical parity…is no longer as compelling as it was during the Cold War…”[53]

Today’s most pressing security threat to the United States is not nuclear war with Russia or China, but nuclear terrorism and proliferation. Excessive U.S. nuclear forces have no meaningful role to play in this regard. The United States needs to sustain a strong international coalition to secure nuclear materials across the globe and turn back nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and continued U.S. and Russia arms reductions are essential to these goals.

In addition, by clarifying their intentions to achieve further nuclear arms reductions and taking steps in that direction, U.S. leaders can put greater pressure on China to exercise greater restraint and engage more actively in nuclear risk reduction initiatives.

Click image to enlarge.A Steady Decline
The U.S. nuclear stockpile peaked at 31,255 warheads in 1967, and has come down ever since.[54] President Richard Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev took the first step to cap U.S. and Soviet nuclear ballistic missile forces with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) Interim Agreement. As an executive agreement, it did not require U.S. Senate approval, but it was approved by Congress in a joint resolution in 1972.

The follow-on SALT II treaty was signed by President Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev in June 1979, and was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification shortly thereafter. But Carter removed the treaty from Senate consideration in January 1980, after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the United States and the Soviet Union voluntarily observed the SALT II limits. By this time, the U.S. arsenal had been reduced to about 24,000 warheads.

President Ronald Reagan began talks toward the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which he and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987. Under INF, the two nations agreed to eliminate their stocks of medium-range, nuclear-capable, land-based missiles. It was the first arms control treaty to abolish an entire category of weapon systems, and established unprecedented procedures to verify firsthand that missiles were actually destroyed. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the INF treaty in 1988.

Meanwhile, Reagan and his team pursued negotiations on a strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty (START) with the Soviets. Under START, President Reagan proposed major reductions, not just limitations, in each superpower’s stockpile of long-range missiles and bombers. The START I treaty was signed by President George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev in 1991, and the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent in 1992.

In late 1991, the Soviet Union broke up, creating the independent states of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The most significant danger emanating from the former Soviet Union was the loss of control of its nuclear stockpile.

President George H. W. Bush responded with his bold Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) in September 1991, which led to the removal of thousands of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from forward deployment. Days later Moscow reciprocated, reducing the risk that these weapons would fall into the wrong hands. No formal treaty was ever negotiated or signed, nor did the Bush administration seek the approval of Congress. Under the PNIs and subsequent actions, the United States unilaterally reduced its stockpile of non-strategic warheads by 90 percent.[55]

President George H. W. Bush and new Russian President Boris Yeltsin began another round of negotiations and signed the START II treaty in early 1993. The Senate voted in approval of the treaty in 1996, but the treaty never entered into force. In 2000, the Russian Duma linked the fate of START II to the continuation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Following the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in June 2002, the Duma rejected START II.

United States President Jimmy Carter (right) and Leonid Brezhnev, First Secretary of Communist Party of the Soviet Union, shake hands after signing the SALT II treaty limiting strategic arms in Vienna, Austria, on June 18, 1979. (AFP/Getty Images)Part of the Duma’s objection to START II was that the planned reductions were not deep enough. So in March 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to begin negotiating START III, which would have reduced each side to 2,000–2,500 deployed strategic warheads by Dec. 31, 2007. Unfortunately, discussions bogged down over distinctions between strategic and theater–range interceptors under the ABM treaty, and START III was never concluded.

In May 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty), which limited both sides’ strategic warheads to 1,700-2,200. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to SORT in 2003.

It is worth recalling that President Bush initially set out to reduce U.S. forces without a formal agreement. As he said in 2001: “We don’t need an arms control agreement to convince us to reduce our nuclear weapons down substantially, and I’m going to do it.”[56]

President Bush ultimately agreed to submit SORT to the Senate in part because Russia wanted a treaty, even if it was a very simple one with no verification measures. Had Russia not wanted a formal agreement, Bush would likely have reduced U.S. nuclear weapons without a formal agreement, as his father did before him.

Due, in part, to the fact that the SORT treaty relied indirectly on the verification mechanisms of START I, the United States and Russia both wanted to negotiate a new bilateral agreement before START I expired in 2009. In April 2010, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START treaty to limit each side to 1,550 deployed, treaty-accountable strategic warheads by 2018. The Senate gave its advice and consent to the agreement in December 2010.

The Persistent Logic of Nuclear Reductions

It is no accident that seven U.S. presidents, (Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama) both Republicans and Democrats, and their Soviet/Russian counterparts spent significant political capital on reducing nuclear weapons.

Besides the fact that arms reduction agreements have high public approval ratings, presidents have pursued this path because nuclear arsenal reductions, particularly in the post-Cold War period, have enhanced U.S. national security in the following ways:

The United States Has More Nuclear Weapons Than Necessary to Deter Nuclear Attack
The massive build up during the Cold War and the relatively sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact left the United States and Russia with nuclear arsenals that vastly outsized the threats they needed to deter. As a result, U.S. military leaders have been able to reassure political leaders that nuclear stockpiles are larger than needed to maintain the security of the United States, its allies and friends. As the Pentagon put it in its June 2013 report on nuclear employment strategy, New START force levels “are more than adequate” to meet U.S. national security needs, and can be reduced by one-third.[57]

This conclusion is unlikely to change even if Russia were to build up beyond New START levels, which is unlikely. According to a 2012 Defense Department report to Congress on Russian nuclear forces, the U.S. nuclear force posture can “account for any possible adjustments in the Russian strategic force,” including the deployment of additional warheads. The report states that even if Russia were to go “significantly above” New START limits, this would have “little to no effect on the U.S. assured second strike capabilities,” including strategic submarines at sea. The Pentagon report concludes that Russia would not be able to achieve a military advantage “by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario.”[58]

Russian Reductions Are Good for U.S. and International Security
U.S. arsenal reductions have encouraged corresponding reductions by Russia, thereby lowering the nuclear threat. Arms control agreements have placed limits on the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, meaning there are now significantly fewer nuclear weapons in Russia that could be used to target the United States in a nuclear war. For example, each side had more than 11,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads in 1990. START I, which was signed in 1991, required each nation to reduce to 6,000; the 2002 SORT agreement to no more than 2,200; and the 2010 New START deal limits each side to no more than 1,550 treaty-accountable deployed strategic warheads by the year 2018.[59] In this way, Russia’s most threatening nuclear weapons have been reduced by 85 percent.

Opening meeting of the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the  United Nations in New York on May 3, 2010. (IAEA)Moreover, Russia is already below some of New START’s limits, with 528 strategic delivery vehicles deployed as of September 2014.[60] Russia’s stockpile is expected to decline further as its delivery systems reach the end of their lifetimes and are retired. To discourage Moscow from building back up to New START levels and from deploying new delivery systems, it is important keep the reduction process moving. For example, the United States could accelerate its reductions to complete them before New START’s 2018 deadline.[61]

To the extent that treaties have intrusive verification measures, such as the on-site inspections under New START, they increase transparency and confidence that treaty commitments are being implemented. This creates a more stable U.S.-Russian strategic relationship, with more predictability and less fear of hidden weapons and possible treaty breakout. This allows both sides to plan based on a predictable future, instead of worst-case assumptions. 

Despite disagreements, such as over Crimea, arms control has contributed to an increasingly stable U.S.-Russian relationship. As stated by the Pentagon’s new nuclear guidance, “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries, and the prospects of military confrontation between us have declined dramatically.”[62]

As just one example of how far the U.S.-Russian relationship has come, consider that over the last 15 years the United States has produced about 10 percent of its electricity from uranium fuel recovered from 20,000 disarmed Russian nuclear warheads.[63] The fact that the United States trusts Moscow to be a reliable energy supplier, and that Moscow trusts Washington to not reconvert this fuel into weapons, speaks volumes. It defies common sense to think there is a realistic possibility that these two nations would intentionally initiate a nuclear war.

Building International Support for Nonproliferation
U.S.-Russian reductions and arms control progress have helped to build international support for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to other states or terrorist organizations. Today, this is the most serious threat facing the United States and the world. According to the Pentagon, today’s “most immediate and extreme danger remains nuclear terrorism,” with nuclear proliferation a close second, including Iran and North Korea.[64]

The link between U.S.-Russian arms control and stopping proliferation is crucial and often misunderstood. U.S.-Russian arms control will not, by itself, convince Iran or North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs. But U.S.-Russian actions on arms control are necessary to sustain global cooperation to on proliferation hard cases, like Iran and North Korea.

Click image to enlarge.Under the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and Russia (and China, France, and the United Kingdom) agreed to pursue arms control and disarmament; all other signatories pledged to forgo nuclear weapons. That basic bargain is a good deal for the United States and has been reinforced repeatedly over time, such as when the treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995.

Therefore, the United States and Russia need to uphold their end of the NPT bargain to build a strong coalition of states to support U.S. efforts to control fissile materials around the world and to enforce sanctions and other measures on countries like Iran and North Korea. According to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, “as we think about our nonproliferation goals,” demonstrating additional progress on arms reductions “is in our interest as we look to put pressure particularly on North Korea and Iran…having a strong coalition in support of us will be vital.”[65]

As explained in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) Report, “By reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons—and thereby demonstrating that we are meeting our NPT Article VI obligation to make progress toward nuclear disarmament—we can put ourselves in a much stronger position to persuade our NPT partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide against theft or seizure by terrorist groups.”[66]

As a clear example of this, the 1995 vote to indefinitely extend the NPT would not have been possible without political commitments from the nuclear powers to negotiate a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by 1996.
Similarly, the U.S. Senate’s failure to approve the CTBT in 1999 had a negative effect on international efforts to strengthen nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to Mohamed El Baradei, who headed the agency at the time, the Senate’s vote on the CTBT was a “devastating blow” to these efforts.[67]

Nuclear Arms Reductions Save Money
By allowing weapons to be retired and avoiding the production of new weapons, arms reductions save money. It is beyond the scope of this report to add up all the dollars saved through arms control in the past, but consider how much the United States might have spent since 1967 if it still had to support a nuclear stockpile of 31,000 warheads and their delivery systems today. And there are significant savings to be had in the future, as the United States plans to rebuild the triad of delivery systems and warheads over the next 25 years.

Arms Reductions Still Make Sense
Despite the long, proud, bipartisan history of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions, some now claim that the process has reached a point of diminishing returns, and that additional reductions are not in U.S. interests.
For example, as Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote in February 2013, “If anything, reducing the American [nuclear] arsenal is likely to cause the very instability that the U.S. seeks to avoid.”[68]

There is no reason, however, to assume that the security logic of arms reductions does not continue to hold true. All of the reasons that arms control made sense in the past are still valid today.

As the Pentagon’s revised nuclear guidance makes clear, the United States today has more nuclear weapons than it needs to guarantee its security and that of its allies and friends. There is clear military support for a smaller stockpile.

It remains in the U.S. interest to reduce Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, despite the welcome fact that the threat of nuclear attack from Moscow has decreased. Russian arsenal reductions can still reduce the consequences of possible accidental missile launches, and help serve the goal of providing better security for and ultimately eliminating weapons-usable materials.

Senator Carl Levin  (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in June 2012: “I can’t see any reason for having as large an inventory as we are allowed to have under New START, in terms of real threat, potential threat.” He added, “The more weapons that exist out there, the less secure we are, rather than the more secure we are.”[69]

Perhaps the most important reason to continue the U.S-Russian arms control process is to strengthen the international coalition against proliferation. This is where the greatest future threats to U.S. security lie. Excessively large arsenals do not stop proliferation, yet arsenal reductions can translate into greater global support for U.S. nonproliferation efforts.

Finally, fiscal pressure on the defense budget makes it unwise to maintain any military program that is larger than it needs to be. A dollar wasted on excess nuclear weapons is a dollar lost to preventing terrorism or proliferation. In 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell noted: “We have every incentive to reduce the number [of nuclear weapons]. These are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from [operation and maintenance] 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.”[70]

Two arguments that are often made against lowering the U.S. nuclear arsenal are that it would encourage China to build up and would cause such worry to our allies that they may decided to build their own nuclear forces. Neither argument holds water.

For decades now, China has been content with a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the United States or Russia. Beijing has a total estimated stockpile of less than 300 warheads, with about 75 of those on long-range missiles that could reach the United States.[71] Even after dropping to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, the United States would still enjoy a 10-1 advantage. China poses no roadblock to continued nuclear reductions at this time.

A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile launcher drives at the Red Square in Moscow, on May 9, 2014, during a Victory Day parade. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)If the United States and Russia reduce their nuclear forces to around 1,000, Washington and Moscow will be in a better position to reach an understanding with China about limiting the further growth of its arsenal.
On the other hand, maintaining unnecessarily large U.S. and Russian nuclear force levels, combined with increasingly capable U.S. ballistic missile defenses, could push China to accelerate its efforts to increase the size and capabilities of its strategic nuclear force.

Some critics claim that further U.S. nuclear force reductions would drive allies that depend on the so-called U.S. nuclear “umbrella” to reconsider their nonnuclear weapon status and seek their own arsenals.

Such concerns are unfounded given the unmatched retaliatory potential of 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons, as well as the overwhelming superiority of U.S. conventional forces. Moreover, for a non-nuclear state, such as South Korea or Japan, to openly build a nuclear arsenal would be a dramatic renunciation of its commitment not to do so under the NPT. The political costs of such a decision would be huge.

Furthermore, rather than express opposition to further nuclear force reductions, U.S. allies in Europe and Japan have consistently and repeatedly called on the United States and Russia to “continue discussions and follow-on measure to the New START to achieve even deeper reduction in their nuclear arsenals towards achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons“ and they “urge those not yet engaged in nuclear disarmament effort to reduce their arsenals with the objective of their total elimination.”[72]

Military, Bipartisan Support
President Obama’s efforts to reduce excess nuclear weapons stockpiles have strong military and bipartisan support. In March 2011, former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) wrote that, “Deeper nuclear reductions... should remain a priority.” They said the United States and Russia, which led the build-up for decades, “must continue to lead the build-down.”[73]

In April 2012, Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of U.S. nuclear forces under President George W. Bush, called for reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by 80 percent from current levels.

Cartwright, along with others, including former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), now Secretary of Defense, wrote that the current U.S. and Russian arsenals “vastly exceed what is needed to satisfy reasonable requirements of deterrence.”[74]

A November 2012 report of the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) on “Options for Implementing Additional Nuclear Force Reductions” suggested that with New START verification tools in place, further nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty.

The ISAB report, which included William Perry (Chair) and Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF, Ret.), recommended that the United States and Russia could accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline. The ISAB report also recommended that “The United States could communicate to Russia that the United States is prepared to go to lower levels of nuclear weapons as a matter of national policy, consistent with the strategy developed in the Nuclear Posture Review, if Russia is willing to reciprocate.”[75]

Such an initiative would also allow both sides to reduce the extraordinarily high costs of nuclear force maintenance and modernization and could help induce other nuclear-armed states to exercise greater restraint.

Today, it is clear that the United States can maintain a credible deterrent at lower levels of nuclear weapons than the 1,550 deployed strategic warheads allowed by New START. There is no reasonable justification today for such high numbers.

Further reductions to the U.S. nuclear stockpile would bring a variety of benefits, including the prospect of a smaller Russia arsenal, a stronger international coalition against nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and billions of dollars that could be saved or spent on higher priority defense needs. Nuclear arsenal reductions have made sense to seven presidents over five decades. They still make sense today.

Table of Contents

Posted: December 31, 1969

Executive Summary


Table of Contents

The United States currently plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its Cold War-era nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate.

These eye-popping projections come at a time when the U.S. defense budget is declining along with the role of nuclear weapons in defense strategy.

In 2011, Congress approved the Budget Control Act, which requires significant reductions in Defense Department spending from current projections over the next decade.

With this in mind, an independent Federal commission recently called the plans for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.”

New international security challenges are demanding U.S. military and diplomatic attention around the globe—from Russia’s interference in Ukraine, the growing threat of extreme terrorism in Iraq and Syria, and the Ebola virus in Africa.

In response, some are calling to bust the budget caps and increase defense spending. But given that Congress would need to agree to such a major change—an unlikely prospect—it would be wise to plan for fewer defense dollars over the next ten years at least.

Fortunately, there is a sizable chunk of the Pentagon budget that can be safely cut back: the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
None of the highest priority threats facing the United States can be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities. And the U.S. nuclear force remains far larger than is necessary to deter nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.

The Pentagon announced in 2013 that it could reduce strategic nuclear forces by one-third below levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty, continuing a historical trend. The U.S. nuclear stockpile has dropped by 80 percent since its peak in 1967, but is still a formidable force of about 4,800 warheads.

The increasingly high cost of nuclear weapons, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the executive branch, Congress, and the American public to rethink current plans to rebuild U.S. nuclear forces in the years ahead. 

Now is the time to reevaluate these plans before major budget decisions are locked-in. Acquisition programs are just getting off the ground and can be scaled back. The Obama administration is conducting an interagency review of long-term nuclear weapons modernization plans with a view toward finding needed savings.

A mock-up of a B61-12 gravity bomb awaits testing by engineers from Sandia National Laboratories in a wind tunnel at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee on February 20. (NNSA)

The current nuclear shopping list is long. The Navy wants to buy 12 new ballistic missile submarines with a total production cost of about $100 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-capable strategic bombers that would cost about $80 billion, as well as land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and new air-launched cruise missiles. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pursuing a $60 billion plan to upgrade five nuclear warhead types, including the B61 gravity bomb.

The Navy and the Air Force say that planned budgets will not pay for these systems, and are seeking additional funds. It is not clear where that money would come from.

This report outlines common sense ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the “triad” and the warheads they carry. The Pentagon can scale back or delay expensive new delivery systems and take a more disciplined approach to rebuilding nuclear warheads, as follows:

  • Scale-back plans to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines by buying eight boats instead of twelve (saves $16 billion over ten years);
  • Delay plans for building new nuclear-capable bombers ($32 billion in savings);
  • Cancel the air-launched cruise missile ($3 billion in savings);
  • Scale-back the B61 bomb life extension program ($4 billion in savings);
  • Refurbish existing land-based ballistic missiles rather than build an entirely new system ($16 billion in savings).

Click to enlarge.The United States can save this money while still maintaining the triad of delivery systems and the number of nuclear warheads it plans to deploy under the 2010 New START Treaty by fielding warheads in a more cost-effective way. Additional nuclear stockpile cuts, such as those proposed by President Obama in 2013, would allow for more savings.

To address high priority and emerging threats, the United States does not have to break the congressional budget deal and increase defense spending. Instead, Washington can safely reduce spending on nuclear weapons and redirect funds to where they are needed most.

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Posted: December 31, 1969



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Over the next 30 years, the United States plans to rebuild its “triad” of nuclear delivery systems—land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers—and the warheads they carry. But the expected price tag for this new generation of weapons is rising just as the defense budget is tightening. Current plans to modernize the triad are simply not sustainable in an age of budget constraints.

Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, a bipartisan, independent report commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department recently called the Obama administration’s plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.”[1]

The July report, “Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future” by the National Defense Panel, found that current plans to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad would have a “substantial cost” of $600 billion to $1 trillion over 30 years.

The panel, which supports retaining the triad, states that “the merits of some aspects of this expensive recapitalization can be debated,” and calls on the administration and Congress to “urgently and jointly” conduct a nuclear review to “find cost-efficient ways to modernize the force.”

The Barack Obama administration is already moving in this direction, and announced in August that it is overseeing an interagency review of its multibillion-dollar plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.[2] “This is Obama’s legacy budget,” a senior administration official told the New York Times. “It’s his last chance to make the hard choices and prioritize.”[3]

U.S. nuclear weapons do not address today’s most pressing security threats, including extreme terrorism, unsecured nuclear material and dangerous pathogens, and the further spread of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the size of the U.S. nuclear force exceeds what the U.S. military believes is necessary to deter nuclear attack against the United States and its allies.

The United States needs to sustain a strong international coalition to secure nuclear materials across the globe and turn back nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Continued U.S. and Russian arms reductions are essential to achieving these goals in the future.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the United States can ill-afford to spend more than necessary on nuclear weapons, especially if it comes at the expense of other, more urgent defense and national security programs.

Contrary to the claims of some, nuclear weapons are not “cheap.” Independent estimates of total U.S. spending on nuclear weapons, which include significant costs borne by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), add up to $355 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and may rise to $1 trillion over 30 years as older delivery systems and warheads are replaced.[4]

For example, the U.S. Navy wants 12 new ballistic missile submarines that would cost about $100 billion to build. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-capable strategic bombers for at least $80 billion, as well as new land-based ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles. NNSA plans to spend more than $60 billion for a new family of “interoperable” warheads for the arsenal.

Meanwhile, sequestration limits on defense spending will force budget trade-offs among various Pentagon programs. For example, the defense budget still needs to be cut by $115 billion from 2016-2019 to meet sequester targets, or about $29 billion per year on average. The actual funding shortfall could be as large as $200-300 billion, according to some estimates.[5]

Now is the time to reevaluate these plans, before major budget decisions are made. This report outlines ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the triad and the warheads they carry. To save needed funds, the Pentagon can scale back or delay expensive new delivery systems and take a more disciplined approach to rebuilding the nuclear warheads that will remain in the arsenal even as deeper nuclear reductions are pursued in the years ahead.

The money-saving approach described here would not require the United States to negotiate new nuclear arms reduction agreements, but only to take advantage of those already in force. Even if the United States stays at nuclear warhead levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty indefinitely, it can save billions by buying fewer delivery systems, delaying procurement schedules, and scaling back warhead rebuilds. Additional nuclear stockpile cuts, such as those proposed in 2013 by President Obama, would allow for more savings.

Over the last 40 years, the United States and Russia have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons to the benefit of U.S., Russian and global security. Successive administrations, on a bipartisan basis, have reduced the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a way to verifiably draw down Russia’s arsenal, build international support for nonproliferation, and save money. These rationales still hold true today.

Current tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine and Moscow’s compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty may delay future arms control agreements, but should not reverse the overall trend toward smaller nuclear arsenals. The United States and its allies have responded to Russian moves in Ukraine and Crimea primarily with diplomacy and economic tools and secondarily by shoring up NATO conventional forces. Beyond symbolism, nuclear forces have not played a role in the crisis.

The U.S.-Russian arms reduction process has weathered similar crises, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Russian non-compliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 1980s, and U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002. Further U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reductions are likely, with or without treaty negotiations, because they are in the mutual security interest of both nations.

Some members of Congress, however, claim that arms reductions have gone far enough and, despite their long history of success, should not continue.

These arguments ignore the fact that additional arms reductions have important benefits, including the prospect of a smaller Russian arsenal, engaging other nuclear-armed states in the nuclear-risk reduction enterprise, building a stronger international coalition against nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons, and saving tens of billions of dollars.

Nuclear arms control has made sense to seven presidents of both parties over five decades. It still makes sense today.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Media Advisory: Experts to Discuss Prospects for a Nuclear Deal with Iran and a New Report on Cutting the Costs of Modernizing the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal at Annual Meeting


As negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran reach a critical phase this week in Vienna, experts speaking at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting on Oct. 20 will discuss the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran.

For Immediate Release: October 15, 2014

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, 202-463-8270 x102; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, x104; Timothy Farnsworth, Communications Director, x110.

(Washington, D.C.)-As negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran reach a critical phase this week in Vienna, experts speaking at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting on Oct. 20 will discuss the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran by the Nov. 24 deadline.

Robert Einhorn, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Elizabeth Rosenburg, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and Ali Reza Nader, senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, will share their thoughts on the progress made to date and the remaining obstacles in the negotiations between Iran, the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) on a nuclear agreement.

At the meeting, the Arms Control Association will also release The Unaffordable Arsenal, a new report on reducing the costs of the bloated nuclear weapons stockpile. Written by former Research Director Tom Collina and the research staff, the report argues that the increasingly high cost of nuclear weapons, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the United States to rethink current plans to rebuild its nuclear forces in the years ahead.

Collina, now the policy director at the Ploughshares Fund, will discuss common sense ways to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade across all three legs of the nuclear triad and its associated warheads.

In a keynote address, Lord Des Browne, vice chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and former secretary of state for defense of the United Kingdom, will share his thoughts on what needs to be done to make progress to reduce nuclear dangers and strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation system ahead of the 2015 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.  

The annual meeting will be held 9:30a.m.-2:30p.m. on Oct. 20 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave, N.W., Washington D.C. For more details on the agenda, click here. Journalists are welcome to attend on a complimentary basis. Please contact Timothy Farnsworth to register.

The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Posted: December 31, 1969


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