Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nukes! Huh! What Are They Good For?

The Arms Control Association (ACA) released an excellent report last week that concludes “ambitious nuclear weapons reductions by the United States would help lessen distrust with Russia and aid global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear arms.” Entitled What Are Nuclear Weapons For? Recommendations for Restructuring U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces, the report was authored by Stanford physicist Sidney Drell and Ambassador James Goodby.

Drell and Goodby suggest a total U.S. force structure of 1,000 nuclear warheads in 2012, with 500 nuclear warheads being operationally deployed and an additional 500 held in a responsive force. This contrasts sharply with current U.S. plan for a stockpile between 5,000 to 6,000 nuclear warheads at that time. Significantly, however, the authors note that “A world without nuclear weapons should be the ultimate goal.”

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, Drell and Goodby propose the following individual components for the “500 + 500 in 2012” force:

Operationally Deployed Force

· Three Trident submarines on station at sea, each loaded with 24 missiles and 96 warheads (a mix of low-yield W76s and high-yield W88s). Reducing the D5 missiles from their full complement of eight warheads to four per missile will substantially increase their maximum operating areas.

· 100 Minuteman III ICBMs in hardened silos, each with a single W87.

· 20–25 B2 and B52H bombers configured for gravity bombs or air-launched cruise missiles.

Responsive Force

· Three Trident submarines, each loaded with 96 warheads, in transit or being replenished in port for their next missions as part of a Ready Responsive Force for a rapidly building crisis, plus two or three unarmed boats in overhaul.

· 50–100 additional Minuteman III missiles taken off alert and without warheads, and 20–25 bombers, unarmed, in maintenance and training, all of which would comprise a Strategic Responsive Force, for a more slowly building confrontation.

The authors explain that this force is composed of existing warheads and delivery systems, requires no new nuclear weapons, and retains the current diversity of systems as a hedge against common failure modes. In fact, they contend that with the cooperation of the other nuclear-armed nations, nuclear deterrence might be maintained entirely with a responsive force of no more than 500 warheads from the initial operationally deployed force.

Drell and Goodby also argue that there’s no need for designing new nuclear weapons against potential new threats, believing instead that current weapons will be sufficient. They maintain that keeping thousands of nuclear warheads serves no useful purpose, contending “yesterday’s [nuclear] doctrines are no longer appropriate for today’s realities.”

The full report is available here.

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