In case you missed it, another voice joined the growing chorus of respected military leaders to suggest that cuts to the U.S. nuclear stockpile may be in the national interest: General Norton A. Schwartz, chief of staff of the Air Force.
According to the Boston Globe, General Schwartz said in an interview: “We have more backup systems in terms of weapons systems than we actually have deployed […] Some of that is a reasonable hedge [but] there is probably room for reductions.’’ These backup systems consist of approximately 2,800 warheads that the United States keeps in reserve, but are not ready to launch (see the outstanding Nuclear Matters Handbook for an in depth description).
While cutting the reserve is a relatively modest suggestion, it is notable because General Schwartz is the first sitting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say on the record that the US has more warheads in the stockpile than it needs.
Some observers have suggested that the large reserve stockpile could be used as a bargaining chip to bring Russia to the table for negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons, a category of weapons in which it has a significant numerical advantage.
Additionally, with all the recent talk about sequestration and ballooning program costs to extend the life of US nuclear warheads, it’s hardly a surprise that the budget situation is going to require tough choices. This isn’t one. Reducing the stockpile of weapons held in reserve will free up resources spent on maintenance and security, as well as future resources that must be spent to extend the life of these weapons. General Schwartz’ comments reinforce what we already know: 2,800 warheads as a hedge is overkill.