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Nuclear Weapons Policy Experts Praise Biden for Transparency on Nuclear Arsenal
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Statement by Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

For Immediate Release: October 6, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext.107; Shannon Bugos, research associate, (202) 463-8270 ext. 113

The Biden administration’s decision to declassify updated information on the number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal is a welcome step that reverses an unwise decision by the Trump administration to classify this information. It also puts pressure on other nuclear armed states that maintain excessive secrecy about their arsenals, and highlights the need for further steps to reduce the number, role, and risk of nuclear weapons in the United States and world’s other eight nuclear-armed states.

The October 5 declassification announcement indicates that the total number of “active” and “inactive” warheads is 3,750 as of September 2020. The stockpile figures do not include retired warheads and those awaiting dismantlement. The updated stockpile number is only 72 warheads fewer than the figure announced in September 2017, after which the Trump administration decided as a matter of policy not to provide any further updates on the size of the U.S. stockpile.

Interestingly, the detailed figures released yesterday show, Donald Trump as the first post-Cold War  that for the first time in 25 years, the United States increased the size of the nuclear arsenal between the years 2018 and 2019. As our colleagues at the Federation of Scientists suggest, this may be due to the deployment of the a new, low-yield warhead on the D-5 sub-based strategic ballistic missile by the Trump administration.

In a democratic society, it is essential that the public and our elected leaders have the information necessary to engage in a fact-based discussion of key issues affecting national and international security—nuclear weapons being among the most consequential.

By being more transparent about the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile size, the United States is on much firmer ground to put pressure on other nuclear-armed states, particularly Russia and China to be more responsible nuclear possessors by providing basic information on the number and types of nuclear weapons in their arsenals. This is essential to understanding whether and how they world’s nuclear-armed states are—or are not—meeting their obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and elsewhere to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament ….”

Agreement on enhanced nuclear stockpile transparency is also necessary if there is to be further progress on arms control and disarmament measures between the United States and Russia beyond the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and with China in the future.

The updated U.S. nuclear stockpile figures do, however, underscore several troubling realities:

  • progress toward serious nuclear weapons stockpile reductions have stalled in recent years, and some states, particularly China and Russia, appear to be increasing the size and/or diversity of their arsenals.
  • an arsenal of 3,750 nuclear warheads, including approximately 1,389 strategic deployed warheads on 665 land-based and sea-based missiles and bombers accountable under New START, is more than enough to deliver a devastating nuclear blow to any nuclear-armed adversary. It would take just a few hundred U.S. nuclear weapons to destroy Russian and Chinese military capacity, kill hundreds of millions of innocent people, and produce a planetary climate catastrophe. And according to previous Pentagon assessments, the United States could further reduce its deployed strategic arsenal even further and still deter a nuclear weapons attack by any nuclear-armed adversary against the United States or our treaty allies. 

The Biden administration has pledged to “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy” and to seek to “head off costly arms races and re-establish our credibility as a leader in arms control.”

As the administration continue to work on its Nuclear Posture Review, we hope and expect it will take further tangible steps to provide the leadership necessary to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide.

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