by John Isaacs
Over the past several months, a handful of conservative security analysts have begun to argue for upgrading the current U.S. nuclear arsenal. These arguments typically call for bolstering America’s “nuclear deterrent,” which of course is a euphemism for building more new nuclear weapons.
A representative example came in the July 14 issue of Defense News in a commentary by David Trachtenberg titled “Death Knell for Nuclear Deterrence.”
Trachtenberg, a consultant and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, writes that the United States currently has a “faith-based” nuclear deterrent. What he credits to faith, however, he should instead credit to facts and science.
The United States has more than 4,000 deployed nuclear weapons and more than 1,200 in reserve. Almost all of these most destructive weapons ever built are larger than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 60 years ago. To all but those who are wearing blinders, this nuclear force packs a world-destructive wallop and is many times larger than the nuclear forces of all countries except Russia.
Trachtenberg uses terms like “aging” and “cold war relics.” The question is not the age of the weapons but whether they work and whether they can do the job that has been assigned to them. Each year, the Departments of Defense and Energy have certified that our nuclear weapons stockpile still works quite capably.
Moreover, a 2006 study conducted by U.S. national weapons laboratories and reviewed by JASON, a widely respected independent government advisory group, found that the plutonium cores of the current nuclear stockpile are, and will continue to be, reliable at least for the next 40 to 50 years.
Trachtenberg asserts that the smaller stockpile of nuclear weapons that the United States maintains will heighten the “appetite of rogue states and terrorist groups” to gain their own weapons. He apparently does not understand politics or history. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have been seeking nuclear weapons regardless of what the United States does. Why? Because if a terrorist group explodes a nuclear weapon on an American city, the U.S. nuclear response is irrelevant and we will have no one on which to retaliate.
The North Koreans and the Iranians have moved toward nuclear weapons programs not because of any U.S. reductions, but more likely because they learned the lesson of Iraq in 2003: The United States will attack non-nuclear countries but not those with nuclear weapons.
The goal of sharply reducing the supply of nuclear weapons and materials is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states. We don’t need to build new nuclear weapons or to modernize our nuclear weapons to remain the strongest power in the world.