(by Robert Burns, Boston.com) WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration is weighing options for sharp new cuts to the U.S. nuclear force, including a reduction of up to 80 percent in the number of deployed weapons, The Associated Press has learned. … The plan is in line with President Obama’s 2009 pledge to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons.

No final decision has been made, but the administration is considering at least three options for lower total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons cutting to around 1,000 to 1,100, 700 to 800, or 300 to 400, according to a former government official and a congressional staffer. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in order to reveal internal administration deliberations.

The potential cuts would be from a current treaty limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.

A level of 300 deployed strategic nuclear weapons would take the U.S. back to levels not seen since 1950 when the nation was ramping up production in an arms race with the Soviet Union. The U.S. numbers peaked at above 12,000 in the late 1980s and first dropped below 5,000 in 2003.

[President] Obama has often cited his desire to seek lower levels of nuclear weapons, but specific options for a further round of cuts had been kept under wraps until the AP learned of the three options now on the table.

A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, said Tuesday that the options developed by the Pentagon have not yet been presented to Obama.

The Pentagon’s press secretary, George Little, declined to comment on specific force level options because they are classified. He said Obama had asked the Pentagon to develop several “alternative approaches” to nuclear deterrence.

The U.S. could make further weapons reductions on its own but is seen as more likely to propose a new round of arms negotiations with Russia, in which cuts in deployed weapons would be one element in a possible new treaty between the former Cold War adversaries. …

Even small proposed cuts are likely to draw heavy criticism from Republicans who have argued that a smaller nuclear force would weaken the U.S. at a time when Russia, China and others are strengthening their nuclear capabilities. They also argue that shrinking the American arsenal would undermine the credibility of the nuclear “umbrella” that the United States provides for allies such as Japan, South Korea and Turkey, who might otherwise build their own nuclear forces.

The administration last year began considering a range of possible future reductions below the levels agreed in the New START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia that took effect one year ago. Options are expected to be presented to Obama soon. The force levels he settles on will form the basis of a new strategic nuclear war plan to be produced by the Pentagon.

The U.S. already is on track to reduce to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads by 2018, as required by New START. As of last Sept. 1, the United States had 1,790 warheads and Russia had 1,566, according to treaty-mandated reports by each. The treaty does not bar either country from cutting below 1,550 on their own.

Those who favor additional cuts argue that nuclear weapons have no role in major security threats of the 21st century, such as terrorism. A 2010 nuclear policy review by the Pentagon said the U.S. nuclear arsenal also is “poorly suited” to deal with challenges posed by “unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons” — an apparent reference to Iran. …

New U.S. cuts could open the prospect for a historic reshaping of the American nuclear arsenal, which for decades has stood on three legs: submarine-launched ballistic missiles, ground-based ballistic missiles and weapons launched from big bombers like the B-52 and the stealthy B-2. The traditional rationale for this triad of weaponry is that it is essential to surviving any nuclear exchange.

As recently as last month the administration said it was keeping the triad intact under current plans, while also hinting at future cuts to the force. In the 2013 defense budget submitted to Congress on Monday, the administration proposed a two-year delay in the development of a new generation of ballistic missile submarines that carry nuclear weapons. That will save an estimated $4.3 billion over five years.

In congressional testimony last November, the Pentagon’s point man on nuclear policy, James N. Miller, … made it clear that the administration was making a fundamental reassessment of nuclear weapons requirements. In unusually stark terms he said the critical question at hand was “what to do” if a nuclear-armed state or non-state entity could not be deterred from launching an attack.

“In effect, we are asking: what are the guiding concepts for employing nuclear weapons to deter adversaries of the United States, and what are the guiding concepts for ending a nuclear conflict on the best possible terms if one has started?” he said.

Nuclear stockpile numbers are closely guarded secrets in most states that possess them, but private nuclear policy experts say no countries other than the U.S. and Russia are thought to have more than 300. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that France has about 300, China about 240, Britain about 225, and Israel, India and Pakistan roughly 100 each.

Since taking office Obama has put heavy emphasis on reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons as part of a broader strategy for limiting the global spread of nuclear arms technology and containing the threat of nuclear terrorism. That strategy is being put to the test most urgently by Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

(Robert Burns is an AP National Security Writer)

Posted at Boston.com from an Associated Press report.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Boston Globe. Visit the website at Boston.com.


1.  Define the following as used in the article:
deployed nuclear weapons
strategic nuclear weapons (use the wikipedia definition for this term)

2.  What pledge did President Obama make in 2009 regarding nuclear weapons?

3.  President Obama asked the Pentagon to develop several “alternative approaches” to nuclear deterrence.  What options will the Pentagon present to the president for his consideration?

4.  a) For what reasons do Republicans oppose any cuts in the number of nuclear weapons the U.S. has deployed?
b)  Are these reasonable arguments?  Explain your answer.

5.  a) For what reason do those who support cutting the U.S. nuclear force do so?
b)  Is this a reasonable argument?  Explain your answer.

6.  America’s nuclear arsenal consists of the triad of weaponry: submarine-launched ballistic missiles, ground-based ballistic missiles and weapons launched from big bombers like the B-52 and the stealthy B-2.  
a)  What is the Obama administration’s motive for proposing delaying the development of any new ballistic missile subs that carry nuclear weapons?
b)  In your opinion, is this a strong enough reason to do so?  Explain your answer.

7.  Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. (from wikipedia)  
Consider the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and North Korea.  For each of the following statements made in a commentary on nuclear weapons, state whether you agree or disagree.  Explain your answers:

a) __________________ “But the only country we can disarm is our own. The only countries we might be able to persuade to disarm are countries that intend no harm in the first place. Those that do intend harm would be delighted to have all their victims disarmed.”

b) __________________ “In the real world, the question of whether nuclear disarmament is desirable is irrelevant because it’s simply not possible, except in words — and we’d truly be fools to accept such words at the risk of our lives.”

c) __________________ “Even if every nuclear weapon on the planet were destroyed — and how could we be sure that had happened? — it still wouldn’t destroy the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons. Countries with aggressive intentions need only choose the time when they would put their knowledge of nuclear weapons to use, and have the world at their mercy.”


New START Treaty:

  • New START (for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation. It was signed on April 8, 2010, and entered into force on February 5, 2011.  It is expected to last at least until 2021.
  • New START replaced the Treaty of Moscow (SORT), which was due to expire in December 2012.
  • Under terms of the treaty, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half. A new inspection and verification regime will be established, replacing the SORT mechanism. It does not limit the number of operationally inactive stockpiled nuclear warheads, that remain in the high thousands in both the Russian and American inventories. (from wikipedia)

How Republicans and Republican presidential candidates stand on the issue:

  • Republicans seem unlikely to support a reduction.
  • “These numbers represent another step by this administration blindly down the road to zero, all without a single reduction in arms from others around the world, or a thawing of the overall threat environment we live in today,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox News. “Furthermore, he’s abandoning his promise to the Congress of modernizing our nuclear deterrent. The continued dismantlement of our armed forces, and abandonment of our allies by this administration, is dangerous to say the least.”
  • The Republican candidates for president have not shown support for reducing the nuclear warheads. For example, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have said they oppose the New START Treaty and its requirement that the U.S. reduce its nuclear arsenal to 1,550 warheads. (from an article at stltoday.com)


Read a commentary by Thomas Sowell opposing nuclear disarmament: studentnewsdaily.com/commentary/the-disarmament-delusion

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