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New Assessment Documents Global Nuclear Weapons Modernization Efforts
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Experts Urge U.S. to Scale-Back Plans and Reduce High Costs

For Immediate Release: May 16, 2014

Media Contacts: Tom Z. Collina, Arms Control Association (202-463-8270 x104); Hans Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists (202-546-3300);

(Washington, D.C.) A new article published in the May issue of Arms Control Today finds that the world's nine nuclear-armed states still possess more than 10,000 nuclear warheads combined, and are all seeking to modernize their arsenals. According to the article, the trend has riled a growing number of signatories to the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which obligates states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

The NPT states parties will meet in April 2015 for the once-every-five-years treaty review conference.

Of the five nuclear nations that have signed the NPT, the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom, "none of them appears willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future," writes Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of America Scientists and author of the article.

"Perpetual nuclear modernization appears to undercut the promises made 45 years ago by the NPT nuclear-weapons states," Kristensen said. "Despite the financial constraints...these states appear committed to spending hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade on modernizing their nuclear forces," he notes.

In December, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the United States plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its nuclear arsenal over the next decade. A major part of this cost is the plan to rebuild all three legs of the existing nuclear 'triad' and their associated warheads, including 12 new ballistic missile submarines, up to 100 new long-range bombers, and possibly new land-based ballistic missiles and a new long-range standoff cruise missile.

Leading nuclear weapons experts from national organizations say that this U.S. spending plan is excessive, and that the United States can save tens of billions of dollars by reducing the number of new missiles and bombers it plans to buy and still maintain nuclear warhead levels established by the 2010 New START treaty with Russia.

"Limits on future defense spending will force budget trade-offs among various Pentagon programs," said Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of ACA. 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.

"We believe the current nuclear spending plan is unsustainable and will deplete resources from higher priorities," Kimball said. "The Obama administration should review its nuclear force modernization plans and make adjustments to right-size and in some cases forego unnecessary programs and save taxpayer dollars," he said.

Nuclear weapons analysts say the United States can maintain planned warhead levels with fewer delivery vehicles. New START allows both sides to field up to 1,550 warheads on 700 long-range delivery vehicles. But the United States could also meet the warhead limit by fielding only about 600 delivery vehicles, saving tens of billions of dollars.

For example, the Navy plans to deploy about 1,000 warheads at sea under New START. "But the United States does not need 12 new submarines to field 1,000 warheads; eight submarines would be enough," said ACA Research Director Tom Z. Collina. "By reducing the fleet of submarines to eight, the United States would save $16 billion over the next decade, according to CBO," he said.

The Air Force wants to develop a new nuclear-armed cruise missile, "but it is not clear why it needs both a penetrating bomber and a standoff missile to meet the deterrence requirements of the United States and our allies," said Kingston Reif, Director of Nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "Moreover, standoff capability already exists with sea-based and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles," he said.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is also pursuing an overly ambitious and costly strategy for warhead refurbishment. The current plan, dubbed "3+2", envisions spending $60 billion to refurbish the arsenal and to use nuclear components that have not previously been tested together, raising reliability concerns.

"The NNSA should instead pursue a simpler refurbishment strategy, avoid risky schemes, and retire warhead types where possible," said Lisbeth Gronlund, Co-Director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Common sense reductions in excess nuclear weapons spending by nuclear-armed states could provide much need support for U.S. nonproliferation efforts at the next NPT review conference," Kimball said.

"Cuts in the size-not just the cost-of U.S. and Russian stockpiles are also in order. Last year, President Obama and the Pentagon announced that the U.S. could cut the size of the deployed strategic stockpile by up to one-third. Both sides should work in parallel to reduce force levels below the New START limits," Kimball said.

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

The full article, "Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?," is available online.


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 weapon