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Pentagon Declares Number of Weapons in Nuclear Arsenal

(May. 4) -A retired U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBM is removed from display in 2008. The United States yesterday asserted it possesses more than 5,000 nuclear weapons that remain in service (U.S. Defense Department photo). (May. 4) -A retired U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBM is removed from display in 2008. The United States yesterday asserted it possesses more than 5,000 nuclear weapons that remain in service (U.S. Defense Department photo).

The United States possesses 5,113 weapons in its commissioned nuclear arsenal, less than one-sixth the quantity it possessed at the height of the Cold War strategic buildup, the Defense Department asserted in a fact sheet issued yesterday (see GSN, May 3).

During months of discussion within President Barack Obama's administration over whether to release the figures, some intelligence insiders warned the information could help potential proliferators determine the amount of plutonium needed for a weapon, the Washington Post reported. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though, noted that experts had already released accurate assessments of the nation's nuclear inventory.

The official bomb count corresponded with earlier determinations reached by arms control think tanks, according to the Post.

The number did not include thousands of decommissioned warheads slated for disposal, the Defense Department noted (see GSN, Feb. 22). The United States possesses around 4,500 such weapons, according to specialists (Sheridan/Lynch, Washington Post, May 4). Retired nuclear weapons could hypothetically be reassembled or their fissile material used in other fashions, according to the Associated Press (Anne Gearan, Associated Press/Google News, May 3).

The inventory released yesterday was current as of Sept. 30, 2009, the Pentagon said. The U.S. nuclear arsenal has been slashed by 75 percent since 1989 and by 84 percent since 1967, when the stockpile peaked at 31,255 warheads, the Wall Street Journal quoted a high-level defense official as saying.

The country disassembled 8,748 nuclear warheads between the 1994 and 2009 fiscal years, the Pentagon added.

The quantity of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons also dropped by 90 percent from Sept. 30, 1991, to the end of September 2009, according to the Pentagon (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, May 4).

The disclosures were part of Obama's effort to restrict the role of nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence, Clinton said before the figures were released.

"We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the nuclear program of the United States," she told delegates to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference (see related GSN story, today). "We think that builds confidence" (Sheridan/Lynch, Washington Post).

The release of the numbers was intended to coincide with the NPT meeting, Agence France-Presse reported. In addition, it occurred less than one month after Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new arms control agreement that would mandate deeper cuts to their nations' deployed strategic arsenals (see GSN, May 3; Agence France-Presse I/Spacedaily.com, May 3).

The international community has reached a "crossroads" and is threatened by a "new wave of proliferation," said Clinton, who called for new measures aimed at shoring up the world's nonproliferation framework.

"President Obama and I know ... that there are doubts among some about whether nuclear weapons states, including my country, are prepared to help lead this effort. I am here to tell you as clearly as I can: The United States will do its part," she said.

The United States would gather $100 million within five years to benefit civilian nuclear energy development in nations in good standing with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Clinton added. The federal government would provide $50 million of the promised amount, she said (Sheridan/Lynch, Washington Post).

"We hope that others will follow" in increasing their nuclear transparency, AFP quoted a U.S. defense official as saying.

"In particular we'd like to see more transparency from China. We have really quite little visibility into their programs and plans," the official said (see related GSN story, today; AFP I).

One expert, though, warned the disclosure could alarm governments that wanted deeper U.S. nuclear rollbacks to follow the end of the Cold War, Reuters reported.

"The states that are most concerned about nuclear disarmament will be more focused on the number that remain rather than the number (reduced)," said George Perkovich, head of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Mohammed/Stewart, Reuters, May 3).

Iran today demanded an outside audit to verify the size of the U.S. arsenal, AFP reported.

"An independent probe is needed to verify the number of U.S. nuclear warheads. A team of independent countries must be allowed to check whether (the number) is right or not," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said (Hiedeh Farmani, Agence France-Presse II/Google News, May 4).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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