(Washington, DC) -- In an interview with Reuters published today, President Donald Trump said he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the "top of the pack," saying the United States has fallen behind in its nuclear weapons capacity and he said he thinks the 2010 New START agreement is “one-sided.”
Mr. Trump’s comments suggest, once again, that he is ill-informed about nuclear weapons and has a poor understanding of the unique dangers of nuclear weapons.
The history of the Cold War shows us that no one comes out on “top of the pack” of an arms race and nuclear brinksmanship. President Trump needs to work with Russia's President Putin to build down, not build up their excessive nuclear arsenals and stop stirring up nuclear tensions.
In reality, New START has advanced U.S. and global interests by lowering and capping the two nation’s excessive strategic deployed nuclear arsenals, both of which remained poised on "launch-under-attack" alert status, meaning that thousands of nuclear weapons could be launched by the U.S. and Russian leaders within minutes of a presidential order.
Discarding New START would irresponsibly free Russia of any limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal and would terminate the inspections that provide the United States with significant additional transparency about Russian strategic nuclear forces.
A wide-range of U.S. national security leaders from, including Mr. Trump’s own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, support New START.
With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under New START and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by any other nuclear-armed country. Neither the United States nor Russia comes out of the treaty “ahead” or “behind.”
Currently, Russia deploys 1,796 strategic warheads, the United States 1,367, but the United States deploys 681 strategic delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers) to Russia’s 508, giving the United States a substantially greater warhead upload potential.
Both countries will be required to meet the New START limits by February 2018. The agreement expires in 2021 but the two leaders could extend the treaty for another five years and take parallel, reciprocal steps to achieve further nuclear reductions.
In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet U.S. deterrence requirements.
Further nuclear reductions would reduce the price—estimated at $400 billion over 10 years by the Congressional Budget Office—to replace the U.S. arsenal at current levels. Expanding the U.S. arsenal with new or additional nuclear weapons would cost billions more.
The five most recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, all negotiated agreements with Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.
In his final news conference as president, Barack Obama noted that if incoming President Donald Trump can restart the stalled U.S.-Russian dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction measures in a serious way, “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.”
Mr. Trump must get smart and avoid reckless statements or actions that upend decades of successful efforts to reduce bloated nuclear arsenals and renew dangerous U.S. and Russian nuclear competition.