Saturday, December 31, 2016

No, The U.S. Doesn’t Need to Expand Its Nuclear Weapons Program

Steven Pifer writes:
President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the United States must “expand its nuclear capability.” Had he written modernize, upgrade, update or renew, no one would have paid much attention. But he seemed to call for a quantitative increase, something Matthew Kroenig endorsed in a December 23 Politico Magazine article.

Yes, there are diverse threats out there. But one should keep perspective. The North Koreans are building their small nuclear arsenal, and no one knows for certain whether they have miniaturized a weapon that could fit atop a ballistic missile. But nothing North Korea does could stop the U.S. military—with its current nuclear capability—from obliterating the small country.

China is modestly expanding its nuclear forces. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the number of its warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) could exceed 100 a decade from now. Under current plans, the U.S. will then have some 1,500 strategic warheads deployed on its ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

Russia is also modernizing its nuclear forces, in part to ensure that they can penetrate future U.S. missile defenses (which also worry the Chinese). But most of the Kremlin program consists of replacing old stuff with new stuff—much as the United States will be doing in the 2020s.

None of these threats mandates a numerical increase in U.S. nuclear weapons.

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