Nuclear Weapons

Today is the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. It is probably a good time to review our own nuclear weapons.

From the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Given this lack of attention to nuclear weapons, it’s not surprising that in August 2007 a B-52 accidentally flew six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles across the country, from North Dakota to Louisiana, or that four nuclear-missile fuses were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan in 2006. Gates was correct to hold Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne responsible for their lack of attention to nuclear weapons. But the bigger issue is why the Pentagon still needs to keep so many nuclear weapons in its inventory nearly two decades after the Cold War–particularly when just about everyone in the military believes they present minimal strategic utility. General Cartwright, who in 2007 moved from STRATCOM to become Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said as much. In Congressional testimony on March 8, 2007, he declared, “As good as [U.S. conventional weapons] are, we simply cannot be everywhere with our general purpose conventional forces, and use of a nuclear weapon in a prompt response may be no choice at all.”

At the height of the Cold War, the United States possessed more than 30,000 nuclear warheads in its inventory. Today, Washington continues to maintain nearly 10,000 warheads. Reducing that number to no more than 1,000 (600 operational and 400 in reserve) would be more than enough for deterrence; one of the last air force officers to command STRATCOM, Gen. Eugene Habiger, has actually suggested this number. Doing so would allow the air force hierarchy to direct its attention and resources to the challenges of the twenty-first century. According to the recently fired Secretary Wynne, the air force has a budget shortfall of $100 million over the next five years because the baseline defense budget is projected to decline in real terms over this period.

More importantly, reducing our own nuclear arsenal would enable the United States to gain the moral high ground in nonproliferation matters and in our increasingly tense relations with Russia. What better way to enhance our negotiating position with the North Koreans and Iranians than by our living up to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which obliges us to reduce and eventually eliminate our nuclear stockpile in exchange for others not developing these weapons? And what better way to negotiate a new nuclear reduction treaty with Russia and enhance the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program than by reducing our own nuclear arsenal?