Lethality

U.S. Leads World in Nuke Reduction Efforts, DOD Official Says

May 15, 2019 | BY David Vergun

For decades, the United States has led the world in efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy said at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the current state of arms control efforts.

Successive treaties enabled reductions in strategic U.S. nuclear warheads, first to 6,000, and ultimately to 1,550, David J. Trachtenberg said.

A bomber flies over a crowd of uniformed personnel.
B-52 Stratofortress
A B-52 Stratofortress bomber assigned to the 23rd Bomb Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., flies over the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2019 in Sirat, Malaysia, March 26, 2019. Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition participants included Russia, China, and U.S. allies and partners.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman
VIRIN: 190326-F-ZT243-0691C


Thousands of short-range nuclear weapons not covered by any treaty were almost entirely eliminated from the U.S. nuclear arsenal, he said. Overall, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has drawn down by more than 85% from its Cold War high, Trachtenberg said.

The U.S. is committed to its long-held arms control, nonproliferation, and nuclear security objectives, he said, particularly its commitment to the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

INF Treaty Developments

Unfortunately, Trachtenberg said, Russia and China have chosen a different path and have increased the role of nuclear weapons in their strategies and actively increased the size and sophistication of their nuclear forces.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was once a cornerstone of security in Europe, he told the committee. By removing an entire class of weapons from the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union — and subsequently Russia and other Soviet successor states — Europe and much of the world enjoyed increased security, Trachtenberg said.

A jet flies close to another aircraft’s wing.
International Airspace
A U.S. RC-135U is intercepted by a Russian SU-27 Flanker while flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, June 19, 2017. Due to the high rate of closure speed and poor control of the Russian aircraft during the intercept, this interaction was determined to be unsafe.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Larkin Sr.
VIRIN: 170619-F-ZZ999-006C


But, he said, the INF treaty no longer provides that security when Russia intentionally and blatantly breaches it by producing and testing missile systems that are in open violation.

As a result, the U.S. has suspended its obligations under the treaty and has given notice of intent to withdraw from the treaty unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance, Trachtenberg said. Allied nations have said they fully support this U.S. decision.

The New START Treaty

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed by Russia and the U.S. on April 8, 2010. This treaty involves a reduction in the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers and a more robust inspection and verification process.

While the U.S. assesses Russia to be in compliance with the central limits of New START, Trachtenberg said "the outlook of Russia's arms control behavior is sobering." Besides violating the INF Treaty, it has violated:

  • The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty
  • The Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Open Skies Treaty
  • The Budapest Memorandum
  • The Helsinki Accords

In addition, he said, Russia is selectively implementing the Vienna Document and has acted inconsistently with the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives.

Moreover, Russia is modernizing its growing and increasingly capable arsenal of shorter-range, nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which Trachtenberg noted are not covered by New START.

Future Arms Control Efforts

That said, DOD supports pursuing a prudent arms control agenda, he said, which could include extending New START — provided the outcomes improve the security of the U.S., allies and partners.

Men in uniform salute a man in civilian clothes exiting an airplane.
Turkey Arrival
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford exits an aircraft and is greeted by Turkish army Gen. Hulusi Akar and Russian army Gen. Valery Gerasimov upon his arrival in Antalya, Turkey, March 6, 2017.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 170306-D-PB383-001C


The U.S. remains committed to meaningful arms control that decreases the chances of misperception and miscalculation that can lead to conflict, Trachtenberg said. Arms control agreements are not something the U.S. signs for the sake of arms control, he told the senators; it signs them to increase its national security.