In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama committed to taking the next step in updating U.S. nuclear policy, saying, “We will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands.”
Eliminating excess nuclear capabilities makes sense for both the U.S. and Russia. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, both counties still have about 8,000 nuclear warheads each. Together, the U.S. and Russian possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
U.S. and Russian nuclear capabilities are far beyond the capabilities of any other country. As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists recently noted, the estimated total yield of the U.S. arsenal is 1,400,000 kilotons. The estimated total yield of North Korea’s arsenal: 50 kilotons.
Holding on to nuclear weapons that we no longer need is a strategic mistake. As Lieutenant General Dirk Jameson, a former STRATCOM Deputy Commander in Chief and ASP Consensus member, recently wrote,“Having more weapons doesn’t mean we are ‘winning’ – or will even succeed in deterring others from pursuing nuclear weapons. It merely reflects that our nuclear strategy is ill-suited to our times.”
Maintaining and updating unnecessary nuclear capabilities comes at a high cost. As then Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “[Nuclear weapons] are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from O[perations] and M[aintenance] investments. They take away from lots of things.”
Updating the U.S. nuclear strategy by eliminating unnecessary nuclear capabilities could save billions of dollars that would be better spent on defense capabilities.
Making smart reductions through negotiations with Russia will preserve strategic stability and give us a more effective arsenal, one that reflects 21st century priorities rather than Cold War thinking.