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Obama Close to Deciding on Size of Launch-Ready Nuke Arsenal

A technician performs maintenance on a U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBM in 1998 at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The Obama administration appears to be moving toward policies that could reduce the size of the U.S. deployed nuclear arsenal by hundreds of warheads, according to acting and retired officials (U.S. Air Force photo). A technician performs maintenance on a U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBM in 1998 at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The Obama administration appears to be moving toward policies that could reduce the size of the U.S. deployed nuclear arsenal by hundreds of warheads, according to acting and retired officials (U.S. Air Force photo).

A growing consensus is emerging in the Obama administration that the size of the U.S. launch-ready nuclear arsenal should be between 1,000 and 1,100 weapons, the Associated Press reported on Monday following interviews with former and current officials (see GSN, June 20). 

Officials think an announcement on the matter could be declared as soon as July.

However, in light of strong GOP opposition to further reductions in the nation's atomic stockpile and the revving up of the presidential race, the Obama administration could also choose to delay any announcement of new arms cuts until the November elections are over, according to officials.

The White House has repeatedly signaled it would like to pursue new reductions in concert with Russia, but others see the possibility of independent cuts.

Russia and the United States under the New START accord are both obligated to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear stockpiles to 1,550 warheads apiece by 2018. The pact entered into force last year. As recently as the beginning of March, there were 1,737 U.S. warheads and 1,492 Russian warheads covered by the treaty.

In considering future possible reductions, the Obama administration is assessing what kind of role atomic armaments should have in a post-Cold War world and whether nuclear arms do actually discourage attacks by extremist organizations like al-Qaida.

Proponents of new cuts to the U.S. arsenal contend the continued possession of a large standing nuclear stockpile undermines Washington's calls for nations such as Iran to abstain from nuclear weapons development and production. Supporters of maintaining a large nuclear deterrent believe the United States cannot give up its strategic edge so long as North Korea and Iran are still pursuing their atomic agendas.

Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball said he believes the president backs retaining only enough nuclear weapons to discourage nuclear strikes from China and Russia, but not as a means of discouraging other weapons of mass destruction strikes.

"Clearly we don't have to have 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons to deter a Russian or Chinese nuclear attack," Kimball told AP. "Russia today has fewer than 1,500 deployed strategic warheads, and in five years they're not going to have any more than that -- they'll probably have fewer."

The timing of any U.S. announcement on new nuclear cuts is important as the Defense Department in the next few years must decide how many  new ballistic missile submarines, silo-based missiles and strategic bombers it needs to order to replace its aging nuclear delivery vehicles (Robert Burns, Associated Press/Google News, July 2).

A senior Russian diplomat on Friday said Moscow will not enter into new bilateral arms control negotiations with Washington so long as the United States continues to implement its plan for European missile defense, RIA Novosti reported.

The United States is in the process of fielding increasingly advanced land- and sea-based missile interceptors around Europe as a stated hedge against a possible ballistic missile attack from Iran. Moscow opposes the effort as it worries the interceptors could target its own strategic nuclear forces.

"Our position is that in order to move forward (in nuclear and conventional cuts) we should implement the existing agreements (especially in the framework of the New START accord)," Russian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Grigory Berdennikov said.

"But how are we supposed to move forward if the United States refuses to curb its missile defenses?" he said (RIA Novosti, June 30).

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