By Valerie Insinna and Dan Parsons
The world is a very different place than it was in the 1950s, when the United States needed thousands of nuclear warheads and three ways to deliver them on target to keep the Soviet Union at bay.
More than two decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military still maintains all three legs of the nuclear “triad” — heavy bombers, submarines and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. Though both the United States and Russia have agreed to gradually reduce the number of deployable warheads in their strategic arsenals, a polarizing argument remains over whether the military needs or can afford each of the three methods of deploying them.
The Soviet Union is no more, but Russia remains the only nation with a nuclear arsenal that even remotely rivals the United States’ capability. While China is nuclear capable and has a large military, that nation’s weapons are primarily conventional. It does not have enough nuclear weapons to launch a first strike that would realistically threaten U.S. nuclear capability, given its three redundant legs.
The 2010 nuclear posture review recognized that Russia will remain an important bellwether in guiding the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
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