Nuclear Weapons

United States Moves Rapidly Toward New START Warhead Limit

05.03.10 | 2 min read | Text by Hans Kristensen
Current pace of U.S. strategic warhead downloading could reach New START limit in 2010.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The United States appears to be moving toward early implementation of the New START treaty signed with Russian less than one month ago.

The rapid implementation is evident in the State Department’s latest fact sheet, which declares that the United States as of December 31, 2009, deployed 1,968 strategic warheads.

The New START force level of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads is not required to be reached until 2017 at the earliest. But at the current downloading rate, the United States could reach the limit before the end of this year.

Since the signing of the Moscow Treaty in 2002, the United States has removed an average of 490 warheads each year from ballistic missiles and bomber bases, for a total of approximately 3,436 warheads. There are now only a few hundred strategic warheads left at U.S. bomber bases, with most of the deployed warheads concentrated on ballistic missiles.

The last time the United States deployed less than 2,000 strategic warheads was in 1956. The peak was nearly 12,790 deployed strategic warheads in 1987.

The rapid downloading of U.S. strategic forces illustrates just how confident the military is in the capability of U.S. nuclear forces to provide a credible deterrent even at the New START level. Several thousand non-deployed warheads in storage can be loaded back onto missiles and bombers if necessary.

Even so, the rapid downloading gives the Obama administration a strong basis to argue at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that it is serious about moving forward on nuclear arms control.

Additional information: United States Reaches Moscow Treaty Warhead Level EarlyObama and the Nuclear War Plan

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