Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

America’s Durable Nuclear Deterrent?

Posted by K.E. White on December 19, 2009

A new report quashes concerns over the effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent. The report, released by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, reviews America’s nuclear forces and those of other nuclear-armed nations. Its thesis: America’s nuclear dominance continues even with other nations pursuing modernization programs. Conclusion: There’s no need for the US to pursue a robust nuclear modernization program.

Why is this important? Recently 41 senators made their support for a new START treaty with Russia dependent on US plans for nuclear modernization. Treaty ratification requires 67 votes in the US Senate.

Two sections from the report merit specific mention. First is its review of America’s current nuclear forces and modernization efforts:

  • America deploys 2,200 strategic warheads, and has 2,00 warheads in reserve
  • America deploys 00 tactical warheads
  • Life extension programs are now underway for submarine and land-based long-range missiles
  • The nuclear testing moratorium has not stopped the W76 warhead from being fitted “with a new arming, firing and fusing mechanism”
  • A new fleet of nuclear submarines are now being researched with construction slated from 2019

The report then reviews the nuclear forces of other nations, and finds their modernization programs no threat to the United States. It then concludes:

Nonetheless, some still argue that if Washington doesn’t pursue a more robust modernization program, the United States will send the signal that it doesn’t take nuclear deterrence seriously. These concerns are mistaken. First, the United States clearly isn’t allowing its nuclear deterrent to deteriorate: Due to remarkable advances in stockpile stewardship capabilities and life-extension efforts, the U.S. nuclear stockpile and its supporting infrastructure remain the most sophisticated and modern in the world. U.S. delivery systems are mo:re deadly and more accurate than they were during the Cold War. Both the defense secretary and the energy secretary annually certify the reliability of U.S. warheads, even though Washington conducted its last nuclear test 17 years ago. Numerous studies have concluded that the explosive cores in U.S. warheads will remain reliable for many, many years. Plus according to a September report PDF from the JASON scientific advisory group, “Lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence by using approaches similar to those employed in [life-extension programs] to date.”

Second, Washington continues to spend huge sums of money on its nuclear forces. A recent study calculated that the United States devoted at least $29.1 billion to its nuclear forces and operational support in fiscal year 2008, including more than $6 billion for the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

So those who continue to argue that Washington doesn’t show enough interest in modernizing its nuclear weapons should be forced to answer a simple question: If given the choice, would they trade the U.S. nuclear arsenal for the Russian or Chinese nuclear arsenals? Clearly, the answer is no. The appropriate mission for U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence. And the U.S. arsenal of more than 5,000 nuclear weapons has the capacity to deter any threat regardless of how many resources Russia, China, and/or any other country devote to modernizing their arsenals.

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One Response to “America’s Durable Nuclear Deterrent?”

  1. johnson said

    The threat is not necessarily in the shorter term. It is for the future. Of course China is not going to catch up to the US so quickly. We have only stopped modernizing our nuclear warheads 17 years ago. China on the other hand did not have a head start. Now China is developing its arsenal quickly. With that being said for all of the thousands of nukes, an opponent of ours only really needs a few strategic warheads deployed. Take North Korea for example, the US as it stands remains vulnerable to an emp attack. Such as an event would reek havoc on our infrastructure and our economy. Never mind also that the report is based upon US intelligence, which has proven to be not so reliable in the past. US intelligence has constantly overestimated the US versus potential adversaries.

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