President Obama is working hard to make a Russian dream of a superior nuclear weapons arsenal come true, writes Heritage’s James Carafano in his most recent op-ed. “The White House has made clear that its signature tool for combating nuclear proliferation is leading by example, and that example is disarmament,” he writes. The Administration, however, runs a risk of ending its path to disarmament in nuclear fallout.
America’s arsenal of strong and reliable nuclear weapons has prevented countries around the world from developing or significantly expanding their own nuclear capabilities. It has been a more successful tool for nonproliferation than the Administration’s New Strategic Arms Control Treaty with the Russian Federation. Indeed, this treaty reduces the U.S. strategic arsenal while allowing Russia to build up and deploy more multiple independent reentry vehicles on fewer delivery systems—the most destabilizing option for the deployment of nuclear weapons. The treaty also fails to address nuclear warhead production disparity between the two countries. While Russia can produce as many as 600 nuclear pits per year, the United States can produce only about 60.
North Korea, China, Russia, India, and Pakistan keep expanding and modernizing their nuclear weapons arsenals. Iran is ever closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability, while the United States continues to deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic posture. Under current policy, replacement systems will not enter the U.S. arsenal until 2030. By then, the U.S. will have 60-year-old intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 40-year-old submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and 35- to 70-year-old bombers. There is currently no plan to develop a new nuclear warhead. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that, under sequestration, the U.S. would be forced to abandon ICBMs and delay other modernization plans.
The Pentagon’s new strategic guidance says, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory, as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy.” The document does not offer any analysis explaining which U.S. deterrence goals changed to justify this shift. It does not appear to take into account shifts in other countries’ nuclear doctrines. As Carafano concludes, “The president is commander in chief. He can press for a smaller, less-capable military if he thinks that best. But he certainly can’t make the case with a straight face that he is giving us more defense. His policy is giving us far less.”