What Are Nuclear Weapons For?

Daryl G. Kimball. Remarks at the First Annual Strategic Deterrence Symposium, U.S. Strategic Command, 29 July 2010.


Without significant reductions in the role and number of U.S. (and Russian) nuclear weapons, and without U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, our ability to harness the international support necessary to prevent nuclear terrorism and prevent new nuclear weapon states will be greatly diminished.

Without these reductions and the test ban, many non-nuclear-weapon states will become less willing to agree to more effective IAEA safeguards, tighter constraints on the spread of sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies, tougher sanctions against violators, and improved interdiction efforts, among other steps.

In recent years, a growing number of national security experts and leaders, including President Barack Obama, have come to recognize the importance of dramatically changing the roles and missions of U.S. nuclear weapons in ways that:

* minimize the salience and number of nuclear weapons;
* advance concrete nuclear risk reduction steps consistent with the United States nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) disarmament obligations; and
* reinforce our commitment to eventually achieve a world without of nuclear weapons.

We can and should limit the role of our nuclear weapons to a core deterrence mission: maintaining a sufficient, survivable nuclear force for the sole purpose of deterring the use of nuclear weapons by another country against the United States or its allies. With secure forces, deterring a nuclear strike requires far fewer nuclear warheads and delivery systems than the current counterforce-oriented nuclear arsenal.

Thus, if the United States were to adopt a policy that explicitly limits the purpose of nuclear weapons to preventing their use by others, then it could drastically reduce its nuclear inventory to a total of no more than 1,000 weapons of all types—strategic, non-strategic, deployed, and nondeployed—within the next few years.

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