Trimming Nuclear Excess

By December 19, 2012

Co-Authored by Meggaen Neely, Communications Intern at the Federation of American Scientists

The U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals currently stand at more than 15 times the size of the total nuclear arsenals of all seven other nuclear weapons states combined. In a new report released by FAS, Trimming Nuclear Excess Options for Further Reductions of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Forces, Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, argues that the U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reduction process needs to be revitalized by new treaties and unilateral initiatives to reduce nuclear force levels.

At a briefing  held on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 14, 2012 Steve Pifer, Director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, joined Kristensen in a discussion regarding U.S.-Russian nuclear dialogue.

While Kristensen noted the significant reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War, he emphasized the need for further reductions, and expressed concerns at the growing impression  that  the U..S and Russia have shifted their focus to modernizing their nuclear forces and are investing in new nuclear weapon systems. Kristensen suggested that, “unless new unilateral reductions take place or significant arms control agreements are reached; large nuclear forces could be retained far into the future.”

While he alluded to the important role the New START Treaty has played in recent years, he also implied that the effect it has had on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces has remained limited, stating that, “the treaty only regulates a limited (but important) portion of the total forces, it has no direct effect on the number of nuclear warheads the two countries possess, and it does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead.” Kristensen called upon the U.S. and Russia to revitalize the treaty through new treaties and unilateral initiatives by finding a better balance between modernization plans and their stated commitment towards nuclear disarmament.

Such action would comprise of the implementation of force reductions planned under the New START Treaty as soon as possible. Kristensen placed particular emphasis on the necessity in reducing the missile loading on each Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and reducing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). He suggested that this was a necessary action in order to decrease the current asymmetry between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. U.S. nuclear forces have placed particular emphasis on “many delivery vehicles each with fewer warheads” while Russian nuclear forces have been characterized “by fewer delivery vehicles each carrying more warheads.” There are concerns that such asymmetry could lead to mistrust between the two countries and “drive worst-case planning and unnecessarily dynamic posturing that will complicate efforts to reduce nuclear weapons further.”

Pifer reaffirmed the need for bilateral action suggesting that the Obama administration “should pursue a New START II that would cut deployed strategic weapons from the New START level of 1,550 warheads apiece to 1,000.” Pifer placed less emphasis on unilateral reductions than Kristensen. Kristensen suggested that implementation of a new treaty that addresses non-deployed and non-strategic weapons will take a significant period of time to negotiate and that some unilateral reductions could help to reduce concerns about asymmetry and stability in the interim.

The full report can be read here.

Nuclear Arms Control Opportunities: An Agenda for Obama’s Second Term by Steven Pifer and Michael O’ Hanlon can be read here.

Categories: Nuclear Information, Policy, Strategic Security