Kingston Reif, director of nuclear nonproliferation, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

June 19, 2013

President Obama outlined a series of initiatives he plans to pursue in his second term to advance the nuclear threat reduction agenda he first laid out in Prague over four years ago. Updating US nuclear strategy to comport with the realities of the 21st century is long overdue, and if implemented the steps outlined by the President will strengthen US national and fiscal security.

The most notable announcement from the speech is that the president has updated high-level nuclear weapons policy guidance, paving the way for up to a one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear warheads with Russia below the New START limit of 1,550 warheads.

This new guidance was the result of a careful and thorough Pentagon-led interagency review of US nuclear deterrence requirements that has the full support of the US military and US Strategic Command. It updates guidance that had not been reexamined in over a decade, since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration. Since then the international security environment has changed dramatically.

There is an emerging bipartisan and military consensus that a significantly smaller stockpile would meet our security needs and those of our allies. Further bilateral nuclear weapons reductions would reduce the Russian nuclear threat and set the stage to include other nuclear powers such as China in the arms control process.
In this time of economic uncertainty, updating US nuclear strategy could also create significant cost savings that would free funding for higher-priority security programs. According to one estimate, the United States could save $58 billion over the next decade if it reduced its arsenal to the still-enormous level of 1,000 deployed strategic warheads.

The president has identified the right priorities. Ultimately, however, he will be judged not on his words, but on his success in fulfilling this agenda.