California Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, today held a hearing examining the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile to maintain a credible U.S. deterrent.
Two of her witnesses were General James Cartwright, USMC, Retired, Former Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and The Honorable Thomas Pickering, Former Undersecretary for Political Affairs, United States Department of State.
Dr. Keith Payne, a Professor and Department Head and Missouri State University Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, also testified as a kind of rebuttal witness.
Cartwright is obviously a very credible voice on nuclear weapons issues, having served as served as head of U.S. Strategic Command, commanding all U.S. nuclear weapons, as well as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Pickering is no slouch as to established credentials either, holding some of the top civilian national security leadership positions in the country.
Cartwright and Pickering jointly testified from their recent Global Zero study on the U.S. nuclear stockpile for the 21st Century.
They were totally clear that the U.S. stockpile is much larger than presently needed. They pointed out that: “The U.S. nuclear force remains sized and organized operationally for fighting the “last war” – the Cold War – even though threats from that era posed by the Soviet Union and China have greatly diminished or disappeared.”
As a result, they argued, both the American and Russian nuclear stockpiles could be significantly cut.
They recommend a U.S. nuclear force of as few as 900 total strategic nuclear weapons, both deployed and reserve, an 80% cut of the present nuclear forces of about 5,000 nuclear weapons. They recommended that this level be achieved through a negotiated bilateral agreement with Russia.
They also suggested that the U.S. maintain nuclear powered submarines and bombers to deliver nuclear weapons while abandoning land-based missiles, a so-called dyad rather than a triad.
These experts further argue that our nuclear weapons be taken off quick launch (hair trigger alert), again in conjunction with Russia. Instead, they recommend we should deploy forces that are ready to fire in 24 – 72 hours rather than minutes. This step would be important to prevent “cataclysmic errors.” The present posture, they said, “impose[s] a severe constraint on presidential deliberation and choice during a crisis or conflict.”
Looking to save a little money: the two witnesses suggested that the United States could save up to $120 billion over 15 years by reducing its force to 900 total weapons, not chump change even in terms of the federal budget deficit.
There you have it. While important military and civilian national security officials recommend pragmatic steps to make America safer and more secure, presumptive GOP nominee for President Mitt Romney continues to question the value of further nuclear weapon reductions.