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

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
New Report Recommends Faster and Deeper U.S. Nuclear Reductions And Diminished Roles for Nuclear Weapons

For Immediate Release: April 28, 2005

Press Contacts: Sidney D. Drell, (650) 926-2664; James E. Goodby, (202) 691-4272; Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): The Washington-based Arms Control Association published a report today urging the Bush administration to accelerate and expand its currently planned nuclear reductions to help lessen the reliance on nuclear weapons worldwide. The proposed action plan aims to move the United States beyond its lingering Cold War-era nuclear weapons policies and make clear that nuclear weapons are truly weapons of last resort. Two eminent nuclear experts with decades of scientific and diplomatic experience, Stanford physicist Sidney D. Drell and Ambassador James E. Goodby, authored the report, What Are Nuclear Weapons For? Recommendations For Restructuring U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces.

The report's release comes on the eve of a May meeting of the nearly 190 states-parties to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the cornerstone of international efforts to control and eliminate nuclear weapons. Drell and Goodby write that more ambitious U.S. and Russian efforts to lower their nuclear holdings could reinforce the treaty. Article VI of the NPT requires nuclear-armed states, as well as all other countries, to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons. "Bold actions by the two powers that still possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear warheads would be a powerful stimulus toward preserving and further strengthening a nonproliferation regime that is under severe strain," the authors state.

The United States possesses approximately 10,000 nuclear warheads and Russia reportedly has roughly twice as many. The two sides have committed to reducing their operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons to less than 2,200 apiece by December 2012, but no limit exists on how many weapons each may retain in storage.

Drell and Goodby argue that current U.S. and Russian plans fall well short of realizing the goal that Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin set in 2002 of reducing their strategic nuclear forces to the "lowest levels" possible. They argue the United States could preserve its security with a much smaller force posture of 500 operationally deployed warheads and 500 more in reserve that are not ready for instant or rapid use.

Underlying the report's recommended course of action are the authors' findings that plausible missions for nuclear weapons have diminished since the Soviet Union's collapse. In addition to Moscow's ongoing transition from foe to partner, Drell and Goodby argue that Washington requires significantly fewer nuclear weapons because present and potentially foreseeable dangers, including a possible souring in U.S. relations with China, do not require additional nuclear weapons above those for hedging against a resurgent, hostile Russia. Moreover, conventional arms can accomplish most military tasks, according to the authors.

They also argue that a robust U.S. nuclear arsenal by itself does not dissuade other regimes or terrorists from trying to acquire nuclear arms. "U.S. nuclear weapons have not been useful in preventing the acquisition of nuclear weapons by states determined to have them and will clearly not dissuade al Qaeda from attempting to make or steal them," the authors warn. They state, "The best way of blocking nuclear-armed terrorism is to prevent nuclear weapons or materials from escaping the control of responsible governments."

"Nuclear weapons are unique in their terrifying potential for massive destruction on an unprecedented scale," Drell and Goodby write. This reality, the two experts maintain, should make U.S. policymakers very cautious about explicitly threatening the use of nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical weapons attack. "The United States only diminishes its own advantages and strengths by pursuing nuclear weapons policies that boost the perceived value of biological and chemical weapons in the eyes of others," the authors assert. Current U.S. policy is to maintain "calculated ambiguity" about whether U.S. retaliation for a biological or chemical weapons attack would include nuclear weapons.

The report further contends that the Bush administration should abandon research into new or modified types of nuclear weapons, including so-called bunker busters, because such activities send the wrong message to the rest of the world. "If the United States, the strongest nation in the world, concluded that it could not protect its vital interests without relying on a newly developed nuclear weapon, it would be a clear signal to other nations that nuclear weapons are necessary for their security purposes too," the authors state. "Recognizing existing U.S. military capabilities, including high-yield nuclear warheads, and the likely harmful impact of such an initiative…on international efforts to preserve and strengthen the nonproliferation regime, the additional capabilities of new nuclear bunker-buster weapons are not worth the high costs," Drell and Goodby write.

The authors also take exception to the new proposal advanced by Bush administration officials that the Department of Energy's Reliable Replacement Warhead program might be used to produce new, more durable warheads to replace existing U.S. weapons. Drell and Goodby maintain, "It takes an extraordinary flight of imagination to postulate a modern new arsenal composed of such untested designs that would be more reliable, safe, and effective than the current U.S. arsenal based on more than 1,000 tests since 1945."

Noting that U.S. nuclear weapons complex "decision making is still being driven by the nuclear weapons structure put in place over the past 50 years," Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) said Feb. 3, "I think the time is now for a thoughtful and open debate on the role of nuclear weapons in our country's national security strategy." Hobson, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee in the House of Representatives that is responsible for nuclear weapons funding, was speaking at an event hosted by the Arms Control Association (ACA).

"This new report is an important contribution to the dialogue that Congressman Hobson has called for," ACA Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball said today.

The full report is available online at <http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/USNW_2005_Drell-Goodby.pdf>. For additional information on the Bush administration's nuclear weapons policies see <http://www.armscontrol.org/subject/usnw/>. For more resources on the NPT visit <http://www.NPT2005.org>.

# # #

The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.

Resource Library: