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

STRATCOM Shifts on Nuclear Costs

U.S. Strategic Command appears to be backing away from a September 2014 estimate that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “will require close to 10 percent” of the Defense Department budget.

April 2015

By Kingston Reif

U.S. Strategic Command appears to be backing away from a September 2014 estimate that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “will require close to 10 percent” of the Defense Department budget “for a period of time.”

Adm. Cecil Haney, who has led STRATCOM since November 2013, made the estimate in a letter to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. But at a Feb. 26 subcommittee hearing, Haney said the figure was likely to be in the range of “5 percent to 6 percent.”

In this video image, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) speaks at a February 26 hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. At the hearing, Larsen asked about a budget estimate made last year by U.S. Strategic Command. (House Armed Services)Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) first disclosed the existence of the letter at the hearing. Arms Control Today subsequently obtained a copy of the letter, which has not been publicly released.

In the letter, Haney says the Defense Department currently spends 2.5 percent of its budget on nuclear forces but that current plans to rebuild U.S. nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and the associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure for these weapons will cause this ratio to quadruple in the future. Haney defended the large anticipated surge in funding, writing that “the cost of losing a credible deterrent capability would likely be much greater not only in dollars, but potentially in terms of freedom and sovereignty.”

The letter does not detail how STRATCOM calculated total nuclear weapons costs or specify the period of time and anticipated size of the Pentagon budget during which nuclear weapons spending could peak at 10 percent of military spending.

At the hearing, Larsen asked Haney how STRATCOM is thinking about the spending trade-offs that would be required to accommodate increased spending on nuclear weapons programs within the Defense Department, noting that 10 percent of the budget “over any period of time is a lot.”

In response, Haney appeared to back away from the 10 percent estimate, stating that “as I look at some of the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] work that is ongoing, more specifically, as it looks over a period…in the 2020[s] to 2030s, when we would have to recapitalize the bulk of our strategic forces,” the cost of nuclear weapons is “really [on] the order of 5 percent to 6 percent” of the Defense Department’s budget.

A January 2015 CBO report estimated that current plans to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost $348 billion between fiscal years 2015 and 2024, or 5 to 6 percent of the total cost of the Obama administration’s plans for national defense over that period. (See ACT, March 2015.)

In an e-mail exchange with Arms Control Today, STRATCOM declined to outline the assumptions behind the estimates contained in the September letter or clarify whether Haney has disavowed the 10 percent estimate. In a March 17 e-mail, STRATCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell said, “I would refer you back to the Admiral’s testimony” and quoted from the exchange with Larsen.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Defense Department officials continue to warn that the United States may not be able to afford the growing cost to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces, especially in light of the spending limits set by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. The Obama administration proposed a major funding hike in the fiscal year 2016 budget request for nuclear weapons programs.

At a March 4 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said that as the Pentagon starts to actually build new submarines, missiles, and bombers in the early 2020s, it is going to “start to have a problem finding ways to afford these systems.”

“We will work to do that,” Kendall added. “It’s a very high priority, and we will work to do that,” but it will be “a challenge for us,” he said.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Budget Speeds Cruise Missile Development

The Obama administration is proposing to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of a new nuclear-armed cruise missile.

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

The Obama administration is proposing to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of a new nuclear-armed cruise missile, according to budget documents released Feb. 2.

The increase in proposed spending is part of a major funding hike in the fiscal year 2016 budget request for programs to sustain and to rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure. An updated cost analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released on Jan. 22 estimated that the administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans would cost $348 billion between fiscal years 2015 and 2024 (see box).

Some current and former U.S. defense officials have questioned whether the modernization plans can be implemented as currently conceived, given continued pressure to reduce military spending. (See ACT, September 2014.)

An air-launched cruise missile is flight-tested in February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)The Air Force is seeking $36.6 million in fiscal year 2016 for research and development for a long-range standoff weapon, more than 10 times as much as the $3.4 million that Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year. The new standoff missile, would replace the Air Force’s nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), which has been operational since 1986. ALCMs are carried by long-range bombers and can attack targets at great distances.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, is requesting $195 million to begin refurbishing the existing ALCM warhead that would be delivered by the new missile. That is an increase of $186 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation of $9.4 million. The first refurbished warhead is now scheduled for completion in 2025, two years earlier than the NNSA proposed last year.

The fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed development of the new ALCM by three years. An Air Force spokeswoman told InsideDefense.com at the time that the delay was caused by “warhead uncertainty and…continuing fiscal challenges.”

Overall, the administration requested $561 billion for national defense in fiscal year 2016, which includes the Defense Department’s regular budget activities and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.
This spending proposal is nearly $39 billion above the spending caps set by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. If Congress does not raise the spending caps or cut the president’s budget request down, automatic, across-the-board cuts will have to be made to the request before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

Triad Spending Grows

The budget request also substantially increases investments in next-generation nuclear submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles.

CBO Updates Nuclear Cost Study

Current U.S. plans to sustain and modernize its nuclear arsenal will cost $348 billion over the next decade, or 5 to 6 percent of the total costs of the Obama administration’s plans for national defense, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The report is an update to the cost study that the CBO released in December 2013, which put the price tag for U.S. nuclear forces between fiscal years 2014 and 2023 at $355 billion. The update estimates the cost between fiscal years 2015 and 2024.
The $7 billion dip from the 2013 estimate is due to “budget-driven delays in several programs, including a three-year delay for the new cruise missile and its nuclear warhead,” the update said.

The CBO spending projection is approximately $51 billion more than the $297 billion 10-year estimate the Defense and Energy departments provided to Congress last year.
The report was released just before the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, which sought increased funding to accelerate the development schedule for the new cruise missile and improve the management of the nuclear force. These funding increases are not reflected in the CBO’s latest cost update.

In a Feb. 2 press briefing at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work expressed concern about the growing costs of the nuclear mission. “We need to keep the old equipment and systems going,” he said, “but it is becoming more expensive for us to do so and requiring us to divert resources in that regard.”—KINGSTON REIF

    The highest-priority and most costly program remains the Navy’s plan to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with 12 new subs, called the SSBN(X). Under the Navy’s budget request, the program would receive $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $100 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation. A December 2014 report by the CBO estimated that the cost to build the 12-sub fleet would be more than $100 billion, with the first boat entering service in 2031.

    Proposed funding for the Air Force’s plan to build up to 100 new long-range strategic bombers continues to rise steeply. The Air Force is seeking $1.25 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $332 million over the fiscal year 2015 appropriation. The new bombers are scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s, and the entire fleet could cost as much as $80 billion to produce, according to some estimates.

    The program to develop a replacement for the current force of 450 land-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles also would get a big boost under the administration’s request. The Air Force is requesting $75.2 million for the program, an increase of $68.3 million over the appropriation for the current fiscal year. The potential replacement missile is slated to begin deployment in fiscal year 2027.

    The budget request also includes $1.1 billion in new funding to address the professional and ethical lapses and poor morale plaguing the nuclear force, according to the Associated Press. (See ACT, December 2014.) This proposal would support 1,120 additional military and civilian personnel working on Air Force nuclear issues and accelerate investments in Navy shipyard infrastructure. The Pentagon plans to spend $8 billion for these and other force improvement efforts over the next five years, the AP said.

    Gen. Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, warned last month that if Congress fails to raise the budget caps, across-the-board cuts would slash “roughly 66 percent of currently planned [Air Force] funding intended to modernize nuclear systems and infrastructure.”

    Warhead Request Pleases GOP

    NNSA nuclear warhead maintenance and infrastructure programs would receive $8.9 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $667 million, or 8 percent, above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation.

    The NNSA weapons budget would increase spending to rebuild the B61 gravity bomb and ALCM warhead, refresh a key part of the W88 submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, and build a new uranium-processing facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

    Some Republican lawmakers have criticized previous administration requests for NNSA weapons programs for allegedly not comporting with the spending levels proposed by the administration in 2010 during the ratification debate over the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This time, however, two Senate Republican staffers praised the fiscal year 2016 NNSA weapons request.

    The budget request “is a good sign and represents the President’s commitment to modernize the [Energy Department] nuclear weapons complex,” one staffer told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 18 e-mail.

    A second Republican staffer said in a Feb. 19 interview that the request is “90 to 95 percent consistent” with what President Barack Obama promised five years ago.

    Although it is unclear what Congress will do to address the mismatch between the budget request and the budget caps, some lawmakers have said they doubt that the budget request for nuclear weapons programs is realistic. In a Feb. 13 interview with Weapons Complex Monitor, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the NNSA, said that the agency has “more in [its] total overall budget than we’re going to have, frankly, when we get done with the budget resolution.”

    Posted: December 31, 1969

    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.

    Back to the Table of Contents

    Posted: December 31, 1969


    Subscribe to RSS - Weapons Research & Development