Last week, the State Department published its New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms report, and it’s got wild-eyed defense spending enthusiasts up in a different sort of arms. About what, you might ask? As of September 1, Russia has more deployed strategic nuclear warheads than the United States for the first time since 2000.
One more, or 0.00061% more warheads, that is.
The report shows that the Russian Federation has 1,643 deployed strategic nuclear warheads — precisely one more than the United States’ 1,642 warheads. The strategic significance of this disparity is, well, zero–except to provide an excuse for nuclear hawks to cry for more nuclear weapons.
The current situation reminds one of the chaos that ensues in the 1966 movie The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming over a false alarm about a Russian invasion of New England.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by Russia and the US entered into force in February 2011. Since then, Russia has increased its deployed warheads by 144, while the US has drawn down its force from 1,722 to 1,642. The treaty obliges both countries to limit their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 by 2018.
The Washington Times columnist Bill Gertz led the Chicken Little Caucus, writing in The Washington Times, “Russia has more deployed nuclear warheads than U.S.“ Yes indeed, by one. We should surrender immediately.
The article quotes former Pentagon strategic weapons analyst Mark Schneider saying, “All U.S. numbers have declined since New START entered into force…The fact that this is happening reflects the ineffectiveness of the Obama administration’s approach to New START.”
What? You mean the Obama Administration is reducing nuclear weapons as called for by a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons? What kind of logic is that?
If the purpose of the treaty is to reduce the U.S. and Russia’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, the decline in the U.S. arsenal to which Schneider refers as ‘ineffective’ is, in fact, quite effective. In fact, it’s in accordance with fulfilling our treaty obligations.
Another important fact: this miniscule numerical superiority of Russia’s arsenal is temporary. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, “…these changes do not reflect a build-up of the Russian nuclear arsenal. The increase results from the deployment of new missiles and fluctuations caused by existing launchers moving in and out of overhaul.”
You know when you go to the doctor for a 3:00pm check-up and you’re two pounds heavier than you were yesterday morning? Imagine these warhead stockpile numbers as your post-lunch, jeans-on weigh-in. The U.S. just went for the salad.
The big picture significance of Russia’s one extra nuclear warhead is the ongoing confrontation between Russia and the U.S. since the Russian seizure of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine. While Putin talks big about nuclear weapons, both countries have arsenals far beyond any necessary to deter a nuclear war or to respond to a nuclear attack. Many experts argue that 100 or 500 nuclear weapons would be more than an adequate nuclear deterrent – or destroyer of worlds.
In 1983 Carl Sagan said, “Imagine a room awash with gasoline. And there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches, the other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead.”
Today it’s more like 1,642 matches to 1,643, but the metaphor is just as applicable.