The next step in strategic arms control

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President Ronald Reagan laid the foundation for the post-Cold War arsenal. “We're not just discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons; we seek, instead, to reduce their number,” he said in his second inaugural address.


His successors built on his call for nuclear reductions. President George H.W. Bush oversaw a fifty percent reduction to the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Another fifty percent reduction was implemented under President George W. Bush. These reductions allowed the U.S. to eliminate unnecessary nuclear capabilities while maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.

Despite this progress, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is still weighed down by unnecessary, excessive weapons. Two years after New START, the U.S. still has close to 2,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons, plus thousands of warheads in reserve, and Russia is in a similar situation.

There is a growing consensus for a new round of nuclear reductions, beginning with bilateral, verifiable negotiations with Russia. Sen. Hagel highlighted this during his confirmation hearing, and he is not alone. And whether the U. S. and Russia negotiate a new arms control agreement sooner or later, many respected military leaders, former national security officials, and current policymakers support strategic reductions and effective investments that will strengthen our nuclear deterrent.

Some of these leaders are Republicans; some are Democrats. They may not agree on many national security issues, but they do agree that the U.S. can maintain a credible nuclear deterrent with far fewer than the 1,550 warheads allowed under the New START Treaty.

Chair of the Armed Services Committee Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for example, recently noted our "over-reliance on nuclear weapons in the last 20 years."

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Sen. Levin’s predecessor on the Armed Service Committee, shares this view. In fact, Sen. Nunn is one of many policymakers who support divesting from nuclear weapons and investing in more effective defense capabilities.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell argued for nuclear reductions on the grounds that maintaining unnecessary nuclear weapons at the expense of other critical defense programs doesn’t make sense.

"We have every incentive to reduce the number [of nuclear weapons],” Powell once said. “These are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from lots of things. There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the nation."

The strong bipartisan support for nuclear reductions shows that this is a smart strategy, not a political game. Eliminating unneeded nuclear weapons frees up resources for more relevant defense programs, making the U.S. safer.

A new round of negotiations with Russia, building on New START, is the next logical step for making nuclear reductions in a way that preserves strategic stability. U.S.-Russia relations have been tense throughout the election year, but the long history of cooperation in the nuclear area bodes well.

Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon traveled to Moscow this weekend, reportedly to begin new nuclear talks. This is a good sign that U.S. and Russia recognize the need to move on from Cold War thinking, even if that means working through some difficult negotiations.

This trip is just a first step, but it is a step in the right direction. A new approach to nuclear weapons can only strengthen U.S. national security, something policymakers on both sides of the aisle can proudly support.

Cheney is CEO and Lodge is director of Nuclear Security at the American Security Project, a nonpartisan research organization whose board members include Sen. Chuck Hagel and until recently included Sec. John Kerry. 

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