Published December 23, 2015
An influential panel is calling for an 80 percent reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons and an elimination of all nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In a report for the advocacy group Global Zero, retired Gen. James Cartwright and others argue that the U.S. needs no more than 900 total nuclear weapons for its security in a post-Cold War world. The report chaired by Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff known to be close to President Barack Obama, comes at a time that the president is weighing a range of sharp nuclear reductions.
The Obama administration is reportedly considering at least three options for lower total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons: reducing their numbers to 1,000 to 1,100; 700 to 800; or 300 to 400. The Global Zero report calls for such weapons to be reduced to about 450, while maintaining an equal number of stored weapons.
The U.S. and Russia have an estimated 5,000 nuclear weapons each, either deployed or in reserve. The two countries are already on track to reduce to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads by 2018, as required by the New START treaty.
The proposal also calls for achieving the cuts over 10 years either unilaterally or through negotiations with Russia that would also include an agreement that would take weapons off of the kind of hair-trigger launch capacity that planners have long worried could leave a president with only minutes to decide how to respond to incoming missiles. This would be accomplished by requiring steps that would take 24 to 72 hours to fire off a nuclear weapon either from a submarine or from a strategic bomber.
Any new agreement with Russia is unlikely in an election year and would likely face stiff resistance by Republicans in Congress even after the November elections. The report that Obama was considering such steep cuts has already elicited Republican criticism.
Any push to eliminate U.S. ICBMs would also face resistance, but the Global Zero report argues that they are of little use against any likely adversary except Russia, because the flight paths from silos in the United States all pass over or near Russia and could trigger a response from Russia's massive arsenal.
The report argues that such drastic cuts in nuclear forces by the United States and Russia could open the way for the two countries to open arms control talks with other countries, including China.
The authors, who also include former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, former ambassadors Richard Burt and Thomas Pickering and retired Gen. Jack Sheehan and Global Zero co-founder Bruce Blair, argue that the deterrent from enormous nuclear arsenals that were critical in the Cold War standoff between the United States and Russia add no strategic value to address current threats.
"There is no conceivable situation in the contemporary world in which it would be in either country's national security interest to initiate a nuclear attack against the other side," the report says.
At a time of tight defense spending, the authors also estimate that the cuts would save the U.S. $100 billion over a decade.