“Humanity is on a Knife’s Edge”

Inside the Arms Control Association    
June 2024

This year’s edition of ACA’s Annual Meeting raised national and international awareness about the problems posed by nuclear weapons, what’s at stake, the policy choices ahead, and the important role for concerned people in the United States and beyond.

The June 7 conference, titled “Moving Back from the Nuclear Brink,” featured a special video message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in which he warned that:

“Humanity is on a knife's edge, the risk of a nuclear weapon being used has reached heights not seen since the Cold War. States are engaged in a qualitative arms race. [W]e need disarmament now. All countries need to step up, but nuclear weapons states must lead the way.”

Before an audience of 160 at the National Press Club, plus another 1,000 watching on  our live webcast, and many more watching through C-SPAN’s live broadcast, White House advisor and senior NSC staffer, Pranay Vaddi reiterated “that the United States will continue to abide by New START limits for the duration of the Treaty, so long as Russia does the same.”

However, New START will expire in about 600 days, and Russia has rejected the U.S. offer (issued at ACA’s 2023 meeting) for talks on a new nuclear arms control framework. Vaddi noted, “We must be prepared for that possibility—that these constraints disappear without replacement.”

He further highlighted President Biden’s statement at the UN last September that “no matter what else is happening in the world, the United States is ready to pursue critical arms control measures.”

He noted, “... we do not need to increase our nuclear forces to match or outnumber the combined total of our competitors to successfully deter them.”

But Vaddi created headlines inThe New York Times and elsewhere when he said: “Absent a change in the trajectory of adversary arsenals, we may reach a point in the coming years where an increase from current deployed numbers is required.”

We disagree. The size of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal still exceeds what is necessary to deter enemy nuclear attacks even if their arsenals grow.

The United States already has some 1,770 thermonuclear warheads deployed on 660 powerful, long-range missiles on land and at sea, and that can be delivered on strategic bombers, plus another 200 "tactical" nuclear bombs on shorter-range aircraft. The use of just a fraction of this arsenal would lead to mass destruction on an unprecedented scale.

More nuclear weapons and even more nuclear weapons spending won’t make the United States safer and will only contribute to a dangerous three-way arms race with Russia and China. Instead, we need to redouble U.S. efforts to pursue practical disarmament diplomacy to reduce nuclear threats to the United States and the world.

Videos of our in-depth, expert panels and keynote speakers' remarks are available on our website, along with the program guide and the list of our Annual Meeting sponsors.

Clearly, ACA’s work must and will go on beyond this one-day event.

As ACA Board Chair Tom Countryman said in his remarks on June 7:

“Today, we both need to work to prevent the breakdown moment when guardrails against nuclear catastrophe evaporate, and be prepared to seize the breakthrough moment, when we can advance again in the direction of the security of a world free of nuclear weapons.  Your contributions now—whether in time, or money, or analysis, or activism—will be crucial as we head toward that moment.”

You can count on us to do our part and more to halt and reverse nuclear buildups and steer us back from the nuclear brink.

Congressional Members to Hold Hearing on Skyrocketing Modernization Costs

As Rep. John Garamendi said at our 2024 Annual Meeting: "We in Congress are part of the problem. We have bought into the assumption that more nuclear weapons will make us safer. ... Billions of dollars and at least a decade have been spent justifying weapons programs, instead of finding paths to peace.”

To make up for the failure of Congress to provide adequate oversight of the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program, Garamendi and other members of the bicameral Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group announced they will host an alternative congressional hearing on July 23. Stay tuned for further details.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to Rethink the New Sentinel ICBM Program

n January, the Air Force notified Congress of a 37% cost overrun in the new "Sentinel" Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program, pushing the estimated cost per missile to $161 million and putting it in "critical" breach of a law designed to prevent major cost overruns.

The total projected 50-year life cycle cost for building a new fleet of 400 Sentinel missiles is nearly $320 billion, plus an additional $16 billion for the Sentinel's new nuclear warhead. This program is just a fraction of the broader $1.5 trillion nuclear weapons modernization initiative.

Write to your member of Congress today.

Tell them that the skyrocketing cost of Sentinel is unacceptable. Urge them to repeal outdated legislation that arbitrarily mandates the deployment of 400 ICBMs. Tell them you support proposals to cut the costs of Sentinel, reduce the number of deployed ICBMs, and phase out ICBMs altogether.

Help Inform ACA’s New Nuclear Disarmament Education Project

We need your help. As part of ACA’s Nuclear Disarmament Education Project, we are developing a nuclear weapons and disarmament beginner’s guide to inform the broader general public about the importance of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control.

Please take two minutes of your time to complete this survey.

To identify the most frequently asked questions and make our “nuclear weapons and disarmament 101” guide an effective tool for as many people as possible, please fill out the survey by July 20.

ACA on C-SPAN: The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal and Threats from Adversaries

Executive director Daryl Kimball spoke on the Washington Journal program June 14 about the state of nuclear weapons in the United States. He responded to recent comments by a National Security Council arms control official that the president may, in future years, consider increasing the size of the U.S. arsenal in response to threats from China and Russia.

Watch the full clip (approximately 44 minutes) below.

Resume U.S. Nuclear Testing? No Thanks!

Of note: just ahead of the first presidential debate on June 27, the former national security advisor under Donald Trump, Robert O’Brien, argued in an article published in Foreign Affairs:

"The United States has to maintain technical and numerical superiority to the combined Chinese and Russian nuclear stockpiles. To do so, Washington must test new nuclear weapons for reliability and safety in the real world for the first time since 1992—not just by using computer models."

The fact is that the United States doesn’t need nuclear explosive testing to maintain warhead “safety and reliability” according to the most senior NNSA officials and Russia has vowed to resume nuclear testing if the United States does, and it can and will. The last thing we need is a global chain reaction of nuclear weapons testing.

O’Brien’s proposal echoes reporting from 2020 about Trump officials discussing the idea of the U.S. resuming nuclear testing to intimidate Russia and China at the negotiating table and threats from Trump’s “arms control” advisor that the U.S. could spend Russia, as well as China, “into oblivion” in a nuclear arms race.

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