High-level Obama administration insiders believe the United States can be protected against aggression with a smaller strategic nuclear arsenal of between 1,000 and 1,100 deployed warheads, the Center for Public Integrity reported on Friday.
Those numbers are included in a new policy document that backs employing a reduced nuclear deterrent aimed at a smaller count of key targets in China, Russia and other nations. The document is based on the administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review but has not yet been formally approved by President Obama, sources said.
The New START treaty requires Russia and the United States by 2018 to reduce their fielded strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. The United States, though, does not need that many weapons to meet its defense needs, insiders asserted.
The administration came to agreement on the matter toward the end of 2012 and is readying to deliver the policy document to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The matter is expected to be made public in a matter of weeks.
“It is all done,” according to one official. “We did so much work on that there is no interest in going back and taking another look at it.”
The new document includes no mandatory nuclear cuts in the immediate term or call for the United States to make such moves on its own, sources said. Washington might instead look to a new official deal with Moscow, or an unofficial agreement if it appears the Senate could not be persuaded to ratify a formal accord.
The Obama administration has long expressed hopes for a follow-up to New START that could encompass tactical and reserve weapons. Vice President Joseph Biden is believed to have raised the matter during a Saturday meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and the State Department's top arms control official will be in Moscow next week.
The United States could cut its whole nuclear arms count to as few as 2,500 weapons, about half of the current stockpile of active and stored weapons, according to multiple sources.
Such cuts could produce billions of dollars in savings by cutting existing delivery systems and reducing plans for future carriers, according to Arms Control Association research director Tom Collina.