The U.S. maintains a stockpile of nearly 5,000 nuclear warheads, a number that is, thankfully, a mere fraction of our Cold War high of over 30,000.
But reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the years has not resulted in a diminished capability to effectively deter a nuclear attack. To the contrary, the U.S. has a much smaller fleet of weapons that are each infinitely more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. And, the risks that our own weapons pose to our own national security, as illuminated in several reports this year, are dire. As Lt. General James Kowalski, who commands the Air Force’s nuclear weapons, said, “The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid…an accident.”
Destructive power isn’t the only reason to consider a minimal deterrence strategy, as General Robert Gard (Senior Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Council for a Livable World’s sister research organization) and Greg Terryn (Scoville Fellow at the Center) write for the National Interest in a piece published Monday. There is, of course, the ever-looming issue of cost. Our Cold War relics are rotting in their silos while they await trillion-dollar plans by the Obama administration to overhaul and rebuild the entire nuclear arsenal, despite the President’s 2009 pledge to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.
So, just how many weapons do we really need for effective deterrence with minimal cost?
Reputable studies produced by the Air Force, former military officials, and ambassadors have estimated that anywhere from 311-1000 weapons would act as a sufficient deterrence for the U.S. nuclear force. Some simple math reveals that our current nuclear arsenal–while a fraction of what it once was–could still be reduced to a fraction of what it is, while reaping major savings and without compromising on security.
Scaling back the nuclear arsenal by adopting a minimal deterrence strategy would reduce the growing cost of maintaining these weapons and eliminate the challenge of paying the nuclear weapons bills that are soon coming due. To boot, a more sensibly-sized nuclear arsenal increases our national security and safety by significantly reducing the threat that these weapons pose to ourselves.