The Defense Department's fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-armed submarines and long-range bombers — referred to inside the Pentagon as the nuclear 'triad' — is critical to national security interests, according to a military report to Congress on U.S. nuclear strategy released Wednesday.
Further, the U.S. nuclear triad will allow the United States "to maintain strategic stability and operational flexibility at a reasonable cost."
But having enough nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal to maintain all three legs of the triad is now in question, in light of President Obama's plans to slash the stockpile by one-third.
Obama announced plans to significantly reduce the total number of nuclear weapons in the American arsenal during a speech in Germany on Wednesday.
“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” Obama told a crowd assembled at the Brandenburg Gate.
During the speech, he announced plans for a 2016 conference in the United States with the aim of better securing nuclear materials worldwide. He also called for a treaty to end the production of fissile material.
White House has ordered the Pentagon to change military policies to only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances, also directing the Defense Department to examine non-nuclear weapons that could serve as deterrents.
But Republican lawmakers on Wednesday slammed the proposal, warning the move would lead to unilateral disarmament and demolish the triad.
Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that “now is not to the time to pursue further strategic nuclear force reductions."
“A country whose conventional military strength has been weakened due to budget cuts ought not to consider further nuclear force reductions while turmoil in the world is growing,” Inhofe said.
But Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters that any debate on changing U.S. nuclear strategy should be based on keeping the triad in place.
“I think we ought to start off with the premise that we should keep [the triad]," Levin said Wednesday.
That said, Defense officials said the Pentagon and U.S. allies can "ensure ... and maintain a strong and credible strategic [nuclear] deterrent" — including the triad — while pursuing the White House's one-third reduction, the report states.