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Senate Armed Services Chairman Wants Fewer Nukes

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called for the United States to drastically cut its nuclear arsenal to a level far below that which is allowed under current agreements. The U.S. signed a treaty with Russia in 2010 that requires both countries to reduce their deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 over a six-year period. That is down from the 2,200 allowed under previous agreements.

According to the New York Times, Senator Levin thinks even that number is too high:

A grave concern today is that nuclear weapons or their fissile components may fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, Mr. Levin said. “The more weapons that exist out there, the less secure we are, rather than the more secure we are,” he added.

Senator Levin also cited a report by retired General James E. Cartwright. Gen. Cartwright, a former commander of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued that an arsenal of 900 strategic warheads was large enough to provide the necessary deterrent.

The senator’s proposal seems like a realistic alternative. The U.S. has many more nuclear warheads than we need, and maintaining the stockpile is expensive. In an era of tight budgets and ongoing threats, focusing our defense capabilities on current needs rather than legacy programs from the Cold War seems like a smart idea.

If the military chiefs think we should cut back on nukes, Via Meadia is ready to go along.

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  • DirtyJobsGuy

    Like every other sophisticated weapons system, nukes have a long lead time. Now its true that we may not be able to build a new warhead design at all. Many of the purported warheads in the arsenal are outdated and need to be recycled into new weapons. The idea that the US needs to restrict our arsenal to avoid provoking others was always a ludicrous idea. Nuclear deterrence was and is based on the assurance that no possible action by an enemy could prevent an overwhelming response. Only in this way could we remove the temptation in ourselves to strike first like the Israelis did in 1967. So plenty of ready to go systems with plenty in reserve is required.

  • Nathan

    If we could also modernize the nuclear stockpile that would remain, I could support that. Reducing the stockpile while letting it rust at the same time seems foolish.

    I don’t envision a significant savings out of this personally. A smaller but up-to-date stockpile sounds like a good move even if you ignore the budgetary implications, though.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Nuclear weapons keep us alive and free.

    Such issues have come up before, specifically in the May 16, 1940, letter from RAF Fighter Command Chief Hugh Dowding to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, which concludes:

    “10. I believe that, if an adequate fighter force is kept in this country, if the fleet remains in being, and if Home Forces are suitably organised to resist invasion, we should be able to carry on the war single handed for some time, if not indefinitely. But, if the Home Defence Force is drained away in desperate attempts to remedy the situation in France, defeat in France will involve the final, complete and irremediable defeat of this country.

    I have the honour to be,
    Your obedient Servant,
    Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief,
    Fighter Command, Royal Air Force.”

  • Richard White

    I have no idea how many nuclear warheads the US should hold. But I’m 90% certain that this article was written by an intern rather than by the Professor, whose thoughtful commentary I respect and enjoy.

    There is no analysis whatever offered in defense of the thesis. Someone said x; someone else (on the home team) said y. A compromise is in order. That’s not analysis, and it is little to no value.

    To hold an opinion on this subject, one probably needs to do some wargaming simulations, some analysis of threats, some consideration of whether those warheads might have some future value for purposes other than war (e.g., to divert or reduce the size of asteroids which might produce extinction events), how the decision will interpreted by, and affect the decisions of other nations, … . Certainly more, however, than he said, she said.

    My suggestion is that the interns who contribute to these articles be identified – to preserve the Professor’s brand, to give them some skin in the game so as to reduce their tendency to post silly stuff like this, and to make it easier for us to find and savor the articles that bring interesting and little-know data and historical context to this space.

    In the unlikely event that the Professor actually crafted this piece, I’m afraid that the interns should take him to the cellar and put him on a diet of gruel while he does the research to give us a well-thought out proposal on what to do with the nuclear weapons. That would, I think, would a very worthwhile read.

  • j lindsey

    I support a reduction of US nukes combined with a modernization program.
    The idea that this would reduce the chances of terrorists getting their hands on one is utter nonsense. It’s not US weapons we’re worried about. The two things are really not connected at all, unless you believe somehow that a US gesture would magically cause all others to do the same.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Opinions on this should be subject to modification after the first successful Iranian detonation.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I don’t trust the Democrats when it comes to Defense, they are far too willing to risk American lives to gain political points with their pacifist wing, after all it isn’t their blood that will get spilled. Our nukes have already been reduced to 15% of their previous number, and I think reducing them further is rightly a military decision, not some Democratic Politician’s in an election year.

  • Corlyss

    What a shock!

    Decrepit leftie, who’s never seen an enemy of this nation that he didn’t think was one of our victims, thinks we need to disarm.

  • alex scipio

    I’m all for cutting back the arsenal – as long as we can also modernize and test it. The way things are now, we have no idea how many of them will even work if needed. Cutting back some percent from an unknwn qty of working nukes seems rather silly, no?

  • Walter Sobchak

    If Carl Levin thinks we need fewer nuclear weapons, then the undoubted truth is that we need more.

  • Otiose

    “The U.S. has many more nuclear warheads than we need..”

    I’m not sure how to figure out how many we need, but it’s likely that if we ever do find out that we had too few we will have a lot more regret and pain vs the the case we never find out we had too many – probably because nothing overt will have happened.

  • Joe

    We only ‘need’ enough nukes to level any potential adversary. So, Russia. If 10% of the arsenal is sufficient to do that, then why are we spending money on the other 90%? Furthermore, all deterrents are not created equal: Submarines and airborne delivery is preferential to the silo-housed ICBM’s, for a variety of reasons. Nuclear deterrence is based on weapon capability, not quantity.

    The point is, we aren’t using the nukes in today’s fight. (If we ever do use them, we’ve effectively already lost anyway). Insistence on maintaining the arsenal means that we are decommissioning A-10 wings and LSD’s/LPD’s, cutting retiree benefits, and handing frontline Marine Riflemen hand-me-down weapons from the Army, rather than the brand-new tools they deserve. If anything, maintaining that arsenal at such a scale has cost more American lives than it’s saved.

  • Glen

    Retired Gen. James Cartwright hardly represents the thinking of The military chiefs.

    As another commenter noted, this post was likely written by an intern. Only a fooolish child could endorse unilateral disarmament, particularly of the weapons that have insured world peace for over sixty years.

  • Cunctator

    Why is the US possession of nukes the cause for real and/or potential adversaries — state or non-state — to acquire them? There is no causal link.

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