The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration is examining options for deep cuts in the US nuclear arsenal. According to the report, the administration is considering options for three levels of cuts in deployed strategic nuclear weapons: 1,000 to 1,100; 700 to 800; and 300 to 400.
Any decrease in the size of the US nuclear arsenal would be a step in the right direction, but the lower level being considered would be a major step toward a world free of nuclear weapons. It would also demonstrate to the world that the US is serious about achieving nuclear disarmament, as it is obligated to do under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The same obligation applies to Russia, the UK, France and China.
Currently, under the New START agreement with Moscow, which entered into force in February 2011, the US and Russia are obligated to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 weapons each by 2017. Moving the number downward to 300 to 400 would be a major game changer in lowering the risk of nuclear war, nuclear accidents, nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
In his Prague speech in April 2009, President Obama expressed hope that America might lead the way toward a world free of nuclear weapons. “I state clearly and with conviction,” he said, “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He tempered this by indicating that it might not happen during his lifetime and that “patience and persistence” will be needed. He has an opportunity now to take a major step during his time in office toward achieving this commitment.
President Obama also pointed out in his Prague speech what nuclear weapons do: “One nuclear weapon exploded in one city — be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague — could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be — for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.”
Some will attack the President for being bold in seeking to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the US arsenal. But boldness is needed, for there are many ways in which nuclear deterrence can fail, including its requirement of rationality in a real world of irrational leaders and terrorist extremists. At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we applaud the President for considering these options for lowering the size of the US nuclear arsenal, and we encourage his boldness in moving to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use by accident, miscalculation or intent.
If President Obama is successful in reducing the size of the US nuclear arsenal to 300 to 400 weapons and bringing the Russians along with the US, this will leave the other seven countries in possession of nuclear weapons roughly at parity with between 100 and 300 nuclear weapons each. This would be a strong place from which to launch multilateral negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons. Such a Convention would be a great achievement for humanity and a gift to ourselves and the generations that will follow us on the planet.