Even so, Kroenig states that the United States should "strive to maintain clear nuclear superiority over its adversaries" and "refrain from additional reductions." He glibly writes that "you don't bring a knife to a gun fight" and that Obama should not bring "a crippled nuclear arsenal to the second nuclear age."
Far from crippling U.S. nuclear forces, President Obama's plans would maintain a devastating, invulnerable nuclear force while modestly reducing excess weapons. The approach is fully consistent with U.S. policy over the last four decades, during which the United States has reduced its stockpile of nuclear weapons by more than 80 percent. Every administration since Nixon has contributed to this effort for four main reasons. They still hold true today.
1. Nuclear overkill. Since 1967, when the size of the U.S arsenal peaked at some 31,000 nuclear weapons, American presidents and military leaders have determined time and again that the country's nuclear stockpile was larger than needed for the deterrence requirements of the United States, its allies, and friends.
During George H. W. Bush's four years in office, the total U.S. arsenal shrunk from about 22,200 weapons to 13,700 -- a 38 percent cut. In George W. Bush's eight years, the total U.S. arsenal dropped from about 10,500 weapons to just over 5,000 -- about 50 percent fewer.
Still, the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals remain by far the largest of any of the world's nuclear-armed states. Together, the United States and Russia possess approximately 90 percent of all nuclear weapons. Even under New START, the United States and Russia would be allowed to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons with thousands more in reserve.
After an extensive review of nuclear deterrence requirements completed in June, U.S. military leaders found that the nuclear arsenal will be "more than adequate" to meet security objectives when New START is fully implemented in 2018, and thus the force can be reduced by up to one-third.
Even at 1,000 strategic deployed warheads, the United States and Russia would retain excess nuclear firepower and each would still have much larger stockpiles than all other nuclear states combined. But moving to 1,000 makes more sense for U.S. security than 1,550, as explained below.
2. Cutting Russian weapons. U.S. arsenal reductions have encouraged corresponding reductions by Russia, via treaties or informal understandings, thereby lowering the nuclear threat we face. Arms control put the Cold War's arms race into reverse. Tens of thousands of warheads that were once deployed and aimed at the United States have been eliminated.
Yes, 1,000 Russian nuclear weapons aimed at the United States is still too many, but we are moving in the right direction. It would mean fewer weapons on high alert that could be launched in error, and more weapons on their way to dismantlement, ultimately reducing the chance they could be seized by a terrorist group.
Today, Russia is already below the deployed warhead limit for New START, five years ahead of schedule. Russia's stockpile is expected to decline further as its delivery systems reach the end of their lifetimes. To discourage Moscow from building back up to New START levels and from deploying new delivery systems, it is important keep the reduction process moving. This could happen through a new treaty or a less formal bilateral understanding, similar to President George H.W. Bush's 1991 initiative to slash U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.
Given the complicated nature of U.S.-Russian relations, Moscow may not choose to follow U.S. reductions immediately. But that should not stop Obama from retiring weapons that we do not need, nor should we give President Putin veto power over U.S. policy.