Overhaul US and Russian nuclear forces, says report
The nuclear disarmament group Global Zero argues that the US could downsize its strategic force to 900 warheads, eliminate tactical and ground-based ICBMs, and still be capable of projecting "a threat of draconian dimensions at any prospective aggressor country."
July 17, 2012Published: July 17, 2012
By David Kramer
Arguing that Russia is no longer a threat to the US and that the thousands of warheads each side continues to deploy is based on "outdated scenarios that are implausible" today, according to the report Modernizing US Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture, issued by the Global Zero US Nuclear Policy Commission. The report states that "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. Their current stockpiles (roughly 5,000 nuclear weapons each in their active deployed and reserve arsenals) vastly exceed what is needed to satisfy reasonable requirements of deterrence…"
The report was chaired by William Cartwright, the general who was in charge of US nuclear forces from 2004 to 2007, now retired, and it was written because the US and Russia are due to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1550 each by 2018 under the New START treaty that took effect last year. The report suggests that the former rivals could deploy half of their warheads and keep the remaining 450 in reserve.
In Global Zero's illustrative scenario, the US would have 8 of its current 10 Ohio-class submarines operational at any given time, collectively capable of carrying a total of 270 Trident missiles with up to four warheads on each. Another 90 nuclear bombs would be carried aboard 18 B-2 bombers. The report urges that ground-based US Minuteman missiles be eliminated, in part because they would be effective only against Russia; launching those ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) at other potential adversaries such as Syria, Iran, North Korea, and China would require that they overfly Russia and risk a retaliatory strike by that nation. Land-based missiles are vulnerable to a first strike, but they can be launched on the shortest notice. More generally, the report recommends that the US and Russia end the cold war hair-trigger readiness for a large-scale nuclear war; the two superpowers should each increase their warning and launch-decision times to days. Currently, US early warning centers have 3 minutes to assess the threat, and the president would have 12 minutes at most to decide whether and how to respond to an attack.
Although it states that the probability of using nuclear weapons is very small, the report illustrates how the US might target its 900 weapons in hypothetical conflicts with Russia, China, or other adversaries. It notes that the size of the US nuclear arsenal wouldn't dissuade terrorists from striking with a weapon of mass destruction, a more realistic threat in the current environment.