"If the United States Can't Go Lower, Who Can?"
Maybe no one. Fashionistas sometimes quip that Americans are always a couple of years behind the rest of the world in adopting new styles. Trends in nuclear weapons policy are apparently no different from the catwalk. While it is still fashionable in Washington to talk about nuclear reductions, for the rest of the world, nukes are the new black.
Russia needs nuclear weapons to offset the conventional superiority of the United States and NATO and affirm its great-power status. President Vladimir Putin has already poured cold water on Obama's proposal for additional nuclear reductions, and Russia's military doctrine emphasizes nuclear weapons, including their first use early in a crisis, to compensate for its weakened conventional military. Russia is subject to the same strategic-warhead limits that apply to the United States under New START, but it also maintains an arsenal of 3,800 tactical nukes -- smaller weapons intended for battlefield use. Moscow is building a rail-mobile missile, has commissioned new nuclear-capable submarines, and plans to construct a next generation of heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
China's nuclear weapons also serve as a deterrent against America's superior conventional power. During the Cold War, China appeared content with a minimum deterrent -- a result, experts speculated, of Mao Zedong's strategic thinking. But recent scholarship suggests that China's nuclear arsenal was stunted by organizational and political pathologies. The kinks are now out of the system and Beijing is going bigger. According to the Pentagon, China is expanding its arsenal of warheads, building new nuclear-armed submarines, and developing next-generation, road-mobile ICBMs with multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle warheads. If U.S.-China relations deteriorate, Beijing might eventually leverage its massive economy to match or surpass America's nuclear capabilities. Additional U.S. reductions would only make such a sprint to parity all the more tempting.
At this very moment, India and Pakistan are engaged in the most intense nuclear arms race the world has seen since the Cold War. India needs nukes to deter China's superior conventional and nuclear might to its northeast and to counter Pakistan's nuclear weapons to the northwest. New Delhi's nuclear arsenal has grown by more than 200 percent in the past decade and now includes an estimated 100 warheads. It is developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and building longer-range ballistic missiles, and last year it ordered more than 100 nuclear-capable aircraft from France.
For Pakistan, the pursuit of nuclear superiority over India is seen as a matter of national survival given its recurring conflicts with its much larger neighbor. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal has also tripled in the past decade and is now estimated to include roughly 110 warheads. Moreover, it is rumored that Pakistani military officers openly talk about an arsenal that will eventually contain more than 1,000 warheads. Islamabad is testing longer-range ballistic missiles, developing new nuclear-capable aircraft, and working on a sea-based nuclear capability.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests in the past decade and is estimated to have an expanding arsenal of roughly a dozen warheads. It is also working on a ballistic missile designed to reach the U.S. West Coast. Iran is vigorously pursuing a nuclear capability, and experts assess that Iran could have enough weapons-grade uranium for its first bomb in months. Moreover, the Pentagon estimates that Iran could have a ballistic missile capable of reaching America's East Coast by 2015. These efforts are making countries in Asia and the Middle East nervous. Officials in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey have floated the idea (some more loudly than others) of building their own nukes in response to the new nuclear kids on the block.
World leaders don't need to read this article to know that large nuclear forces can make them safer. Some scholars might protest that building nuclear arsenals larger than required for retaliation is illogical, but when academic theories are consistently contradicted by evidence from the real world, it is not the real world that is mistaken.
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