June 19, 2013
Since taking office, President Obama has made nuclear nonproliferation one of his signature foreign policy issues—reaffirming the United States’ commitment to working toward a world free of nuclear weapons, focusing international attention on the threat of nuclear terrorism, and providing “rogue” countries like Iran and North Korea with strong incentives to halt their nuclear programs.
The Obama administration’s announcement today that the United States is willing to work with Russia to jointly reduce their nuclear stockpiles below New START levels—to about 1,000 deployed weapons each—is yet another sign of this historic commitment.
Yet from both a strategic and a budgetary perspective, there is no reason for the United States not to make these reductions unilaterally. Our massive nuclear arsenal is a relic of the Cold War and largely useless in combatting the threats facing the nation today. We possess far more warheads than are necessary for deterrence and a secure second-strike capability; according to the Air War College and School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, our deterrence goals can be accomplished with an arsenal of just 311 nuclear weapons. Further, these reductions will save the country $58 billion over the next decade by allowing the Defense Department to scale back its plans to build new nuclear delivery systems, according to estimates by the Arms Control Association.
At a time when sequestration has forced the government to slash funding for critical domestic programs like Head Start, the Environmental Protection Agency, and infrastructure investments, the country simply cannot afford to continue wasting taxpayer dollars on outdated weapons programs that do nothing to enhance our security. We shouldn’t wait on Russia to reduce this wasteful federal spending.
Lawrence J. Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant defense secretary, and Alex Rothman, policy analyst, the Center for American Progress