Nuclear weapons have been in the news lately, as the United States and Russia recently signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The treaty will limit the number of deployed warheads to 1,550 each and the number of nuclear armed missiles and bombers to 700 each, as well as establishing a new system of inspections allowing both countries to verify that the other is fulfilling their treaty obligations. It's a good treaty, and its ratification by the Senate should be easier than the recent partisan votes on healthcare and financial reform.
However, the treaty makes no specific mention of nuclear warheads that would left left in storage rather than deployed on missiles or in bombers. This is not as major a flaw in the treaty as it may appear, since a nuclear warhead that has no missile or bomber is militarily useless, and you can't exactly build a nuclear missile or bomber overnight. But it does cost a fair amount to maintain these weapons, so it rationally makes sense to reduce the overall number of warheads.
According to this article from the Washington Post, President Obama has drawn up a plan that would reduce the total number of warheads from about 5,000 to between 3,000 and 3,500 over the course of twenty years. In and of itself, this is very good. After all, the fewer nuclear weapons, the better.
The problem is that Obama's plan does not go nearly far enough. There is no rational reason to maintain an arsenal of 3,000 warheads, as a force of only a few hundred would be more than sufficient to deter any enemy from attacking the United States, or to utterly destroy them if it came to that. This blog has previously proposed that the United States nuclear arsenal be unilaterally reduced to 300 warheads and abandon its land-based and bomber-based launch systems, relying exclusively on submarines. The arguments for this approach are as sound as ever: it would easily maintain the ability of the United States to defend itself, and save American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year that would otherwise be uselessly expended on weapons of mass destruction.
So, why President Obama should be warmly congratulated for making the reduction of nuclear weapons a priority, he should have the courage to go further.