President Barack Obama recently unveiled in Berlin a new proposal to have the United States and Russia reduce their long-range deployed nuclear weapons by roughly one-third, relative to levels under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).
Arms control skeptics swiftly attacked his plan. They asserted that reducing deployed U.S and Russian strategic warheads to about 1,000 each would risk U.S. and allied security — especially when other countries are now modernizing their nuclear forces. They also claim that Russia will not take up the offer.
These critics, however, fail to make a persuasive case that Obama’s proposed cuts go too far. In fact, 1,000 deployed strategic warheads is a solid proposal. The case is compelling:
First, this strategic nuclear force allows Washington to retain a robust, reliable and even redundant nuclear deterrent. It is hard to imagine, even in the most Strangelovian war fighting scenario, that more than tens of nuclear warheads would ever wisely be employed against an adversary.
Second, what drives Russia and the United States to keep thousands of nuclear warheads are Cold War-legacy war plans based on destroying each other’s nuclear forces. These plans are entirely unrealistic — since neither side could disarm the other. They also have a circular logic: The more weapons each side possesses, the greater the case for the other to retain excess capacity. This is exactly the dynamic in which negotiated mutual cuts make sense.