New START Treaty Count: Russia Dips Below US Again

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian deployed strategic warheads counted by the New START Treaty once again slipped below the U.S. force level, according to the latest fact sheet released by the State Department.

The so-called aggregate numbers show that Russia as of March 1, 2015 deployed 1,582 warheads on 515 strategic launchers.

The U.S. count was 1,597 warheads on 785 launchers.

Back in September 2014, the Russian warhead count for the first time in the treaty’s history moved above the U.S. warhead count. The event caused U.S. defense hawks to say it showed Russia was increasing it nuclear arsenal and blamed the Obama administration. Russian news media gloated Russia had achieved “parity” with the United States for the first time.

Of course, none of that was true. The ups and downs in the aggregate data counts are fluctuations caused by launchers moving in an out of overhaul and new types being deployed while old types are being retired. The fact is that both Russia and the United States are slowly – very slowly – reducing their deployed forces to meet the treaty limits by February 2018.  Continue reading

H-Bomb History Published Over Government Objections

Physicist Kenneth W. Ford, who participated in the design of the hydrogen bomb in the early 1950s, has published a memoir of his experiences despite the objections of Energy Department reviewers who requested substantial redactions in the text.

“Building the H Bomb: A Personal History” was released this month in softcopy by World Scientific Publishing Company. Hardcopy editions are to appear in May.

The dispute between the author and the government over the book’s publication was first reported by the New York Times in “Hydrogen Bomb Physicist’s Book Runs Afoul of Energy Department” by William J. Broad, March 23. The Times story immediately turned the book into something of a bestseller, and it ranks number one on Amazon.com in categories of Physics, Nuclear Physics, and Military Technology.

Significantly, Department of Energy reviewers did not attempt to compel the author to amend his text, nor did they seek to interfere with the book’s publication. So their response here is altogether different than in the 1979 Progressive case, when the government sought and received an injunction to block release of Howard Morland’s article “The H Bomb Secret.” Rather, they asked Dr. Ford to make extensive changes in his manuscript. Depending on one’s point of view, the requested changes may have been frivolous, unnecessary, or prudent. But there is no reason to suppose they were presented in bad faith. The Department had nothing to gain from its recommended changes.

For his part, Dr. Ford was not on a crusade to expose nuclear secrets. On the contrary, “I have bent every effort to avoid revealing any information that is still secret,” he wrote in prefatory remarks. As one of the original participants in the H-Bomb program, he has exceptional standing to render a judgment on what is and is not sensitive. “In my considered opinion, this book contains nothing whose dissemination could possibly harm the United States or help some other country seeking to design and build an H bomb.”

Still, while Dr. Ford’s scientific judgment is entitled to great weight, the question of what constitutes Restricted Data under the Atomic Energy Act is not a scientific issue. It is a legal matter which is delegated by statute to the Department of Energy. This means that DOE retains some legal authority over the information in the book which it has not yet used. One may still hope that the Department, in its wisdom, will decline to exercise that authority in this case.

“Building the H Bomb” is a rather charming and quite readable account of a young man finding his way in the midst of momentous scientific and political upheaval. It is not a history of the H-Bomb. For that, one still needs to turn to Richard Rhodes’ “Dark Sun” and other works. Dr. Ford does provide an introduction to the basic physics of nuclear weapons. But for those who don’t already know the names of John Wheeler (Ford’s mentor), Enrico Fermi, or Hans Bethe, and what made them great scientists and men of stature, this book will not enlighten them very much.

What the book does offer is an eyewitness account of several crucial episodes in the development of the hydrogen bomb. So, for example, Ford considers the contested origins of the Teller-Ulam idea that was the key conceptual breakthrough in the Bomb’s history. He cannot decisively resolve the disputed facts of the matter, but he knew Teller and he knew Ulam, as well as Richard Garwin, John Toll, Marshall Rosenbluth, David Bohm and many others, and he provides fresh perspectives on them and their activities. Any historian of the nuclear age will relish the book.

The National Security Archive has posted an informative commentary by Dr. Ford, along with several important declassified documents that were used by the author in preparing the book.

The INF Crisis: Bad Press and Nuclear Saber Rattling

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian online news paper Vzglaid is carrying a story that wrongly claims that I have said a Russian flight-test of an INF missile would not be a violation of the INF Treaty as long as the missile is not in production or put into service.

That is of course wrong. I have not made such a statement, not least because it would be wrong. On the contrary, a test-launch of an INF missile would indeed be a violation of the INF Treaty, regardless of whether the missile is in production or deployed.

Meanwhile, US defense secretary Ashton Carter appears to confirm that the ground-launched cruise missile Russia allegedly test-launched in violation of the INF Treaty is a nuclear missile and threatens further escalation if it is deployed. Continue reading

The Nuclear Weapons “Procurement Holiday”

harencakBy Hans M. Kristensen

It has become popular among military and congressional leaders to argue that the United States has had a “procurement holiday” in nuclear force planning for the past two decades.

“Over the past 20-25 years, we took a procurement holiday” in modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, Major General Garrett Harencak, the Air Force’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said in a speech yesterday.

Harencak’s claim strongly resembles the statement made by then-commander of US Air Force Global Strike Command, Lt. General Jim Kowalski, that the United States had “taken about a 20 year procurement holiday since the Soviet Union dissolved.”

Kowalski, who is now deputy commander at US Strategic Command, made a similar claim in May 2012: “Our nation has enjoyed an extended procurement holiday as we’ve deferred vigorous modernization of our nuclear deterrent forces for almost 20 years.”

One can always want more, but the “procurement holiday” claim glosses over the busy nuclear modernization and maintenance efforts of the past two decades. Continue reading

Rumors About Nuclear Weapons in Crimea

The news media and private web sites are full of rumors that Russia has deployed nuclear weapons to Crimea after it invaded the region earlier this year. Many of these rumors are dubious and overly alarmist and ignore that a nuclear-capable weapon is not the same as a nuclear warhead.

Several U.S. lawmakers who oppose nuclear arms control use the Crimean deployment to argue against further reductions of nuclear weapons. NATO’s top commander, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, has confirmed that Russian forces “capable of being nuclear” are being moved to the Crimean Peninsula, but also acknowledged that NATO doesn’t know if nuclear warheads are actually in place.

Recently Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said that NATO was “transferring aircraft capable of carrying nuclear arms to the Baltic states,” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded that Russia has the right to deploy nuclear weapons anywhere on its territory, including in newly annexed Crimea.

Whether intended or not, non-strategic nuclear weapons are already being drawn into the new East-West crisis.  Continue reading

FAS at Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

By Hans M. Kristensen

For the next week I’ll be in Vienna for the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

This is the third in a series of conferences organized and attended by a growing number of countries and humanitarian organizations to discuss the unique risks nuclear weapons pose to humanity and life on this planet. According to the Austrian government: “With this conference, Austria wishes to strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and to contribute to the growing momentum to firmly anchor the humanitarian imperative in all global efforts dealing with nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament.”

The nuclear-armed states have so far boycotted the conferences, but last month the Obama administration announced that the United States would attend after all – although with reservations. Britain quickly decided to join as well. No word from Russia or the other nuclear-armed states yet. [Update: China apparently has decided to participate as well.] Continue reading

Pentagon Review To Fix Nuclear Problems – Again

Less than a decade after the Pentagon conducted a major review to fix problems in the nuclear management of U.S. nuclear forces, the Pentagon today announced the results of yet another review.

The new review identifies more than 100 fixes that are needed to correct management and personnel issues. The fixes “will cost several billion dollars over the five-year defense spending program in addition to ongoing modernization requirements identified in last year’s budget submission.” The Pentagon says it will “prioritize funding on actions that improve the security and sustainment of the current force, ensures that modernization of the force remains on track, and that address shortfalls, which are undermining the morale of the force.”

That sounds like a strategy doomed to fail without significant adjustments. The Pentagon is already planning to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on modernizing submarines, bombers, missiles, warheads, and production facilities over the next decade (and even more later).

Those modernization plans are already too expensive, under tremendous fiscal pressure, and competing for money needed to sustain and modernize conventional forces. So who is going to pay for the billions of dollars extra needed to fix the nuclear business?  Continue reading

Pentagon Review To Fix Nuclear Problems – Again

Less than a decade after the Pentagon conducted a major review to fix problems in the nuclear management of U.S. nuclear forces, the Pentagon today announced the results of yet another review.

The new review identifies more than 100 fixes that are needed to correct management and personnel issues. The fixes “will cost several billion dollars over the five-year defense spending program in addition to ongoing modernization requirements identified in last year’s budget submission.” The Pentagon says it will “prioritize funding on actions that improve the security and sustainment of the current force, ensures that modernization of the force remains on track, and that address shortfalls, which are undermining the morale of the force.”

That sounds like a strategy doomed to fail without significant adjustments. The Pentagon is already planning to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on modernizing submarines, bombers, missiles, warheads, and production facilities over the next decade (and even more later).

Those modernization plans are already too expensive, under tremendous fiscal pressure, and competing for money needed to sustain and modernize conventional forces. So who is going to pay for the billions of dollars extra needed to fix the nuclear business?  Continue reading

Thinking More Clearly About Nuclear Weapons: The Ukrainian Crisis’ Overlooked Nuclear Risk

The destructive potential of nuclear weapons is so great that decisions impacting them should be made in a fully conscious, objective manner. Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that this is not the case. One of my Stanford course handouts1) Available at http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/sts152_03/handout03.pdf lists almost two dozen assumptions which underlie our nuclear posture, but warrant critical re-examination. This column applies that same kind of analysis to the current Ukrainian crisis.

It is surprising and worrisome that almost none of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has mentioned its nuclear risk. With the West feeling that Russia is solely to blame, and Russia having the mirror image perspective, neither side is likely to back down if one of their red lines is crossed. Add in America’s overwhelming conventional military superiority and Russia’s 8,000 nuclear weapons, and there is the potential for nuclear threats. And, where there is the potential for nuclear threats, there is also some potential for nuclear use.

I’m not saying a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis is likely, but given the potential consequences, even a small risk of the Ukrainian crisis escalating to nuclear threats would seem too high.

The frequency with which we find ourselves in such confrontations is also a factor. A low probability nuclear risk that occurs once per century is ten times less likely to explode in our faces than one that occurs once per decade. And the latter hypothesis (confrontations occurring approximately once per decade, instead of once per century) is supported by the empirical evidence, as the Georgian War occurred just six years ago.

While both Russia and the West are wrong that the current crisis is solely the other side’s fault, this article focuses on our mistakes since those are the ones we have the power to correct.

An example of the West’s belief that the crisis is all Russia’s fault appeared in a July 18 editorial 2)“Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” New York Times, July 17, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/opinion/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine-putin-russia.html?_r=2 in The New York Times which claimed, “There is one man who can stop [the Ukrainian conflict] — President Vladimir Putin of Russia.”

Another example occurred on September 3, when President Obama stated: “It was not the government in Kyiv that destabilized eastern Ukraine; it’s been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia and armed by Russia. And the Russian forces that have now moved into Ukraine are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission. They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks. Now, these are the facts. They are provable. They’re not subject to dispute.” (emphasis added)

So what’s the evidence that the New York Times and the president might be wrong? In early February, when the crisis was in its early and much less deadly stages, Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, wrote3)Jack Matlock, “Ukraine and the United States,” JackMatlock.com, February 8, 2014. http://jackmatlock.com/2014/02/ukraine-and-the-united-states/: “I believe it has been a very big strategic mistake – by Russia, by the EU and most of all by the U.S. – to convert Ukrainian political and economic reform into an East-West struggle. … In both the short and long run only an approach that does not appear to threaten Russia is going to work.” (emphasis added)

A month later, on March 3, Dmitri Simes, a former adviser to President Nixon, seconded Ambassador Matlock’s perspective when he said in an interview4)Martin Hellman, “Nixon’s Adviser Warns Ukraine Could Have ‘Echoes of 1914,’” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, March 9, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/nixons-adviser-warns-ukraine-could-have-echoes-of-1914/Henry A. Kissinger, “Henry Kissinger: To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/henry-kissinger-to-settle-the-ukraine-crisis-start-at-the-end/2014/03/05/46dad868-a496-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html[/ref]: “I think it [the Obama administration’s approach to the Ukraine] has contributed to the crisis. … there is no question in my mind that the United States has a responsibility to act. But what Obama is doing is exactly the opposite from what should be done in my view.”

Two days later, on March 5, President Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, wrote:5) “Each [Russia, the West, and the various Ukrainian factions] has made the situation worse.”

A number of other articles by foreign policy experts also question the Times and President Obama placing all the blame for the crisis on Russia, but I hope I’ve made the point that Putin is not the only man who could end the fighting. Indeed, he may not be capable of doing that without us also correcting some of our mistakes.

Further evidence that the New York Times and President Obama might be wrong can be found in an intercepted and leaked phone conversation[ref]Martin Hellman, “Transcript of Estonian FM Bombshell Revelation,” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, June 19, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/transcript-of-estonian-fm-bombshell-revelation/ in which Estonia’s Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet – clearly no friend of Russia’s – stated that the sniper fire on February 20, which killed dozens of Maidan protesters and led to calls for Yanukovych’s head, appeared to have been a false flag operation perpetrated by the most violent elements within the protesters – for example, the ultra-nationalist Right Sektor, which is seen as neo-Nazi in some quarters.

Here is the exact wording of Paet’s key allegation in that phone call: “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind [the] snipers … it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.” That “new coalition” is now the Ukrainian government.

While this allegation has received little attention in the American mainstream media, German public television sent an investigative reporting team which reached the same conclusion6)Martin Hellman, “Is the Ukrainian Crisis Spiraling Out of Control?” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, April 14, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/is-the-ukrainian-crisis-spiraling-out-of-control/: “The Kiev Prosecutor General’s Office [of the interim government] is confident in their assessment [that Yanukovych’s people are to blame for the sniper fire, but] we are not.”

This is not to say that Paet and the German investigators are correct in their conclusions – just that it is dangerously sloppy thinking about nuclear matters not to take those allegations more seriously than we have.

While Putin has exaggerated the risk to ethnic Russians living in Ukraine for his own purposes, the West has overlooked those same risks. For example, on May 2 in Odessa, dozens of pro-Russian demonstrators were burned alive when an anti-Russian mob prevented them from fleeing the burning building into which they had been chased. According to the New York Times7)Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine’s Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads,” New York Times, May 4, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/world/europe/kievs-reins-weaken-as-chaos-spreads.html: “The pro-Russians, outnumbered by the Ukrainians, fell back … [and] sought refuge in the trade union building. Yanus Milteynus, a 42-year-old construction worker and pro-Russian activist, said he watched from the roof as the pro-Ukrainian crowd threw firebombs into the building’s lower windows, while those inside feared being beaten to death by the crowd if they tried to flee.  … As the building burned, Ukrainian activists sang the Ukrainian national anthem, witnesses on both sides said. They also hurled a new taunt: “Colorado” for the Colorado potato beetle, striped red and black like the pro-Russian ribbons. Those outside chanted “burn Colorado, burn,” witnesses said. Swastikalike symbols were spray painted on the building, along with graffiti reading “Galician SS,” though it was unclear when it had appeared, or who had painted it.”

Adding to the risk, on August 29, Ukraine took steps to move from non-aligned status to seeking NATO membership, and NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would “fully respect if the Ukrainian parliament decides to change that policy [of  non-alignment].” Somewhat paradoxically, it is extremely dangerous – especially for Ukraine – for Rasmussen to encourage its hopes of joining NATO since Russia would likely respond aggressively to prevent that from occurring.

Also adding to the danger is an escalatory spiral that appears to be in process, with NATO taking actions that are seen as threatening by Russia and Russia responding in kind, with Putin reminding the world8)Greg Bothelho and Laura Smith-Spark, “Putin: You Better Not Come After a Nuclear-Armed Russia,” CNN.com, August 30, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/index.html?hpt=hp_t1 that, “Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations. This is a reality, not just words.”

We also need to question whether it is in our national security interests to ally ourselves with the Kiev government when, on September 1, its Defense Minister declared that, “A great war has arrived at our doorstep – the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War Two.”9)“Ukraine crisis: Government setbacks in Luhansk and Donetsk,” BBC News Europe, September 1, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29019032

Also on September 1, a group of former CIA intelligence analysts warned10)“Warning Merkel on Russian ‘Invasion’ Intel,” Consortiumnews.com, September 1, 2014.   http://consortiumnews.com/2014/09/01/warning-merkel-on-russian-invasion-intel/that: “Accusations of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the intelligence seems to be of the same dubious, politically fixed kind used 12 years ago to justify the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.” (The group also warned about faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War.)

These former intelligence analysts are not saying that our government’s accusation is wrong. But they are reminding us that there is historical evidence indicating that we should be more cautious in assuming that it is correct.

In a September 4 article in Foreign Policy, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” 11)Jeffrey Taylor, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” Foreign Policy, September 4, 2014. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/04/putins_nuclear_option_russia_weapons Jeffrey Taylor argues that: “Putin would never actually use nuclear weapons, would he? The scientist and longtime Putin critic Andrei Piontkovsky, a former executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow and a political commentator for the BBC World Service, believes he might. In August, Piontkovsky published a troubling account of what he believes Putin might do to win the current standoff with the West – and, in one blow, destroy NATO as an organization and finish off what’s left of America’s credibility as the world’s guardian of peace.”

I strongly encourage readers to read the full article. Again, Piotkovsky’s scenario is not likely, but given the consequences, even a small risk could be intolerable.

Defusing the Ukrainian crisis will require a more mature approach on the part of all parties. Focusing on what we need to do, we need to stop seeing Ukraine as a football game that will be won by the West or by Russia, and start being concerned with the safety of all its residents, of all ethnicities. If we do that, we will also reduce the risk that we find ourselves repeating the mistakes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when neither side wanted to stare into the nuclear abyss, but both found themselves doing so.

As noted earlier, our mishandling of the Ukrainian crisis is unfortunately just one instance of a larger problem – dangerously sloppy thinking about nuclear weapons. Given that the survival of our homeland is at stake, our government needs to undertake a top-to-bottom review of the assumptions which underlie our current nuclear posture and correct any that are found to be wanting.

 

Dr. Martin E. Hellman is an Adjunct Senior Fellow for Nuclear Risk Analysis at FAS. Hellman was at IBM’s Watson Research Center from 1968-69 and an Assistant Professor of EE at MIT from 1969-71. Returning to Stanford in 1971, he served on the regular faculty until becoming Professor Emeritus in 1996. He has authored over seventy technical papers, ten U.S. patents and a number of foreign equivalents.

Along with Diffie and Merkle, Hellman invented public key cryptography, the technology which allows secure transactions on the Internet, including literally trillions of dollars of financial transactions daily. He has also been a long-time contributor to the computer privacy debate, starting with the issue of DES key size in 1975 and culminating with service (1994-96) on the National Research Council’s Committee to Study National Cryptographic Policy, whose main recommendations have since been implemented.

His current project, Defusing the Nuclear Threat, is applying quantitative risk analysis to a potential failure of nuclear deterrence. In addition to illuminating the level of risk inherent in threatening to destroy civilization in an effort to maintain the peace, this approach highlights how small changes, early in the accident chain, can reduce the risk far more than might first appear. This methodology has been endorsed by a number of prominent individuals including a former Director of the National Security Agency, Stanford’s President Emeritus, and two Nobel Laureates.

Notes   [ + ]

1.  Available at http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/sts152_03/handout03.pdf
2. “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” New York Times, July 17, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/opinion/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine-putin-russia.html?_r=2
3. Jack Matlock, “Ukraine and the United States,” JackMatlock.com, February 8, 2014. http://jackmatlock.com/2014/02/ukraine-and-the-united-states/
4. Martin Hellman, “Nixon’s Adviser Warns Ukraine Could Have ‘Echoes of 1914,’” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, March 9, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/nixons-adviser-warns-ukraine-could-have-echoes-of-1914/
5.  “Each [Russia, the West, and the various Ukrainian factions] has made the situation worse.”

A number of other articles by foreign policy experts also question the Times and President Obama placing all the blame for the crisis on Russia, but I hope I’ve made the point that Putin is not the only man who could end the fighting. Indeed, he may not be capable of doing that without us also correcting some of our mistakes.

Further evidence that the New York Times and President Obama might be wrong can be found in an intercepted and leaked phone conversation[ref]Martin Hellman, “Transcript of Estonian FM Bombshell Revelation,” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, June 19, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/transcript-of-estonian-fm-bombshell-revelation/

6. Martin Hellman, “Is the Ukrainian Crisis Spiraling Out of Control?” Defusing the Nuclear Threat, April 14, 2014. http://nuclearrisk.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/is-the-ukrainian-crisis-spiraling-out-of-control/
7. Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine’s Reins Weaken as Chaos Spreads,” New York Times, May 4, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/world/europe/kievs-reins-weaken-as-chaos-spreads.html
8. Greg Bothelho and Laura Smith-Spark, “Putin: You Better Not Come After a Nuclear-Armed Russia,” CNN.com, August 30, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
9. “Ukraine crisis: Government setbacks in Luhansk and Donetsk,” BBC News Europe, September 1, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29019032
10. “Warning Merkel on Russian ‘Invasion’ Intel,” Consortiumnews.com, September 1, 2014.   http://consortiumnews.com/2014/09/01/warning-merkel-on-russian-invasion-intel/
11. Jeffrey Taylor, “Putin’s Nuclear Option,” Foreign Policy, September 4, 2014. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/04/putins_nuclear_option_russia_weapons

The New York Times: Which President Cut the Most Nukes?

By Hans M. Kristensen

The New York Time today profiles my recent blog about U.S. presidential nuclear weapon stockpile reductions.

The core of the story is that the Obama administration, despite its strong arms control rhetoric and efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons, so far has cut fewer nuclear warheads from the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile than any other administration in history.

Even in terms of effect on the overall stockpile size, the Obama administration has had the least impact of any of the post-Cold War presidents.

There are obviously reasons for the disappointing performance: The administration has been squeezed between, on the one side, a conservative U.S. congress that has opposed any and every effort to reduce nuclear forces, and on the other side, a Russian president that has rejected all proposals to reduce nuclear forces below the New START Treaty level and dismissed ideas to expand arms control to non-strategic nuclear weapons (even though he has recently said he is interested in further reductions).

As a result, the United States and its allies (and Russians as well) will be threatened by more nuclear weapons than could have been the case had the Obama administration been able to fulfill its arms control agenda.

Congress only approved the modest New START Treaty in return for the administration promising to undertake a sweeping modernization of the nuclear arsenal and production complex. Because the force level is artificially kept at levels above and beyond what is needed for national and international security commitments, the bill to the American taxpayer will be much higher than necessary.

The New York Times article says the arms control community is renouncing the Obama administration for its poor performance. While we are certainly disappointed, what we’re actually seeking is a policy change that cuts excess capacity in the arsenal, eliminates redundancy, stimulates further international reductions, and saves the taxpayers billions of dollars in the process.

In addition to taking limited unilateral steps to reduce excess nuclear capacity, the Obama administration should spend its remaining two years in office testing Putin’s recent insistence on “negotiating further nuclear arms reductions.” The fewer nuclear weapons that threaten Americans and Russians the better. That should be a no-brainer for any president and any congress.

New York Times: Which President Cut the Most Nukes?
FAS Blog: How Presidents Arm and Disarm

This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.