A report has now come out that during President Trump’s meeting with military officials on July 20th, he expressed a desire to increase the size of the United States’ nuclear arsenal. He was being briefed on military readiness and was shown a slide depicting the decreasing number of American nuclear weapons when he said he would like to increase the stockpile to its peak levels in the 1960s.
Trump’s comments apparently unnerved some officials who were present and may be the reason that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.” They fear that an increase in the size of the American nuclear arsenal would cause a new nuclear arms race and violate treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory.
These treaties include the following:
- Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT): This treaty calls for good faith efforts on the part of recognized nuclear states (U.S, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France) to decrease their nuclear stockpiles.
- New START: This treaty is between the U.S. and Russia and limits deployed warheads to 1,550, deployed delivery vehicles (sea-based, land-based, and air-based) to 700, and the total of deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles to 800. It took effect in 2011 with a deadline of February 2015 for compliance.
- Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: This bans ground-launched intermediate range (500 to 5,500 kilometers) ballistic and cruise missiles.
Currently, the United States has about 4,000 nuclear weapons, but – as can be gleaned by the above treaties (particularly New START) – most of these are not deployed. These non-deployed weapons/warheads are classed as “inactive” (capable of being put in service between 6 and 24 months) and “extended hedge” (capable of being put in service between 24 to 60 months.” For deployed weapons and delivery systems, the U.S. has nearly 1,400 warheads, 700 delivery vehicles, and 800 deployed/non-deployed delivery vehicles (this is in compliance with New START).
Nuclear weapons treaties such as New START and the ones which proceeded it (SALT, START, SORT, etc…) are a convenient way for the signatories to get rid of old weapons and modernize its arsenal. Since both sides, U.S. and Russia, commit to force reductions, then the less-desirable weapons can be culled from the arsenal.
However, many of the U.S.’ weapons and delivery systems were designed in the 1960’s and 1970’s and have not been sufficiently modernized since that time. There are also shortages in technical know-how by American engineers regarding nuclear weapon design. President Trump’s call for an increase in the number of weapons could be better channeled into modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to make it safer and more efficient.