Written by Greg Terryn
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during his address yesterday to the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to nonproliferation and disarmament. As a sign of good faith, the Obama administration released an updated account of its nuclear stockpile and committed to increasing its dismantlement of retired warheads. These are modest, but welcome steps towards reducing the threat of nuclear weapons and increasing national and global security.
During his speech, Secretary Kerry announced that the U.S. stockpile had fallen to 4,717 warheads as of September 2014, a reduction of 87 warheads since the stockpile of 4,804 warheads in September 2013. In addition, Kerry released the size of the U.S. dismantlement queue for the first time, indicating that there are still “approximately 2,500” retired warheads awaiting disarmament.
The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and its affiliated advocacy organization Council for a Livable World called for just this kind of transparency in a recent letter to President Obama. While we welcome this step in the right direction, we further urged the president to make public the total size, composition, and cost of the U.S. nuclear enterprise.
In an effort to reduce the backlog of retired warheads, the Obama administration announced that it will increase its dismantlement efforts by 20%, demonstrating its willingness to dedicate further resources to the elimination of excess nuclear weapons. The current dismantlement rate, according to Principal Deputy Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration Madelyn Creedon at an April 2015 Air Force Association event, is about one nuclear weapon per day.
The United States has taken efforts to increase its dismantlement rate before, following the 2009 revelation that the U.S. dismantlement queue had a 15 year backlog. How the United States plans to increase this rate requires a more detailed explanation. Still, a commitment to reducing the U.S. dismantlement backlog is certainly welcome progress.
Acknowledging that an arsenal of 4,717 warheads is “still way too many,” Secretary Kerry reaffirmed the commitment of the Obama administration to the long and challenging road of nuclear disarmament. As a next step down that road, Secretary Kerry also reaffirmed the Obama administration’s willingness to conduct further arms control reductions with Russia, up to one-third below New START, claiming “that offer remains on the table, and we urge the Russians to take us up on it.”
Our letter supports these efforts to continue finding room for reductions with Russia, in spite of current tensions over Ukraine. In addition, the letter urges the Obama administration to search for ways to reduce the nuclear stockpile with or without Russia, including efforts to trim the excess hedge of spare weapons.
Secretary Kerry also cited the nuclear negotiations with Iran as a testament to the strength and resilience of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Through international pressure and cooperation, the P5 +1 has made incredible progress towards halting and rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. In the coming months, negotiators will work to finalize a deal that allows for Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program while verifying that no efforts are being made towards the development of a nuclear weapon.
Overall, the improvements offered by the Obama administration: an increase in nuclear arsenal transparency and dismantlement efforts, are important, but modest steps. A world without nuclear weapons, the world President Obama himself outlined in his 2009 Prague Speech, will require bold action and broad cooperation on the international stage. We suggest that the president:
1. Increase transparency and accountability for nuclear weapons
2. Increase nuclear security through cooperation with Russia
3. Work with Congress to preserve arms control agreements and nuclear security programs
4. Reduce the size of the nuclear hedge
5. Redefine the role of nuclear weapons for generations to come
To see further suggestions for how President Obama can leave a lasting nuclear legacy, view our letter here.