U.S. Nuclear Weapons: Policy, Force Structure, and Arms Control Issues
CRS Report for Congress
U.S. Nuclear Weapons:
Policy, Force Structure, and Arms Control Issues
Updated June 1, 2001
Amy F. Woolf
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service The Library of Congress
U.S. Nuclear Weapons:
Policy, Force Structure, and Arms Control Issues
During the Cold War, the United States maintained nuclear weapons to deter,
and if necessary, defeat the Soviet Union. These weapons were designed to deter
nuclear attack on the United States, and nuclear, chemical, and conventional attacks
on U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. The United States deployed a wide variety of
nuclear weapons delivery vehicles and was prepared to destroy large numbers of
military, industrial, and leadership targets in the Soviet Union. The United States
agreed to restrict the deployment of strategic ballistic missile defenses in the 1972
Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. And, although the United States and Soviet
Union participated in negotiations to reduce offensive nuclear weapons, these efforts
did little to reduce the numbers of deployed weapons during the 1970s and 1980s.
After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia remained a concern for
U.S. national security because it still retained thousands of nuclear weapons, but other
emerging threats from regional adversaries also prompted concerns. The Clinton
Administration argued that nuclear weapons remained important to deter the full
range of threats to the United States. So, even though the United States and Russia
withdrew most of their deployed non-strategic nuclear weapons and pledged to
reduce their strategic forces under the START I and START II treaties, the United
States did little to alter the basic tenets of its nuclear strategy and doctrine.
In late 1997, the Clinton Administration issued a new Presidential Decision
Directive (PDD-60) that outlined strategy and policy for U.S. nuclear weapons. This
document stated that the United States would no longer seek to win a protracted
nuclear war with Russia, but that it would only seek to deter such a conflict. At the
same time, the United States would retain a range of options for the employment of
nuclear weapons, and it would not forswear the first use of nuclear weapons if it were
attacked with chemical, biological, or conventional weapons. The Clinton
Administration has also sought to continue the START process to reduce strategic
forces with Russia, and it has pledged to seek amendments to the ABM Treaty so that
the United States can deploy a limited national ballistic missile defense system to
protect against small-scale ballistic missile attacks.
Many analysts have offered alternatives to the Clinton Administration’s approach
to nuclear weapons policy. Some support an explicit threat to retaliate with nuclear
weapons after a biological weapons attack; others argue that the United States should
only threaten nuclear retaliation if it is attacked with nuclear weapons. Some argue
that the United States should remain cautious about the arms reduction process with
Russia, while others argue that the two nations should move quickly to reduce sharply
the numbers of nuclear weapons in their forces and to reduce the alert rates for those
weapons so that they could not be launched quickly. Some argue that the United
States should accelerate the deployment of ballistic missile defenses, while others
argue that such defenses will do little to protect the United States from emerging
threats and could, instead, undermine reductions with Russia. The Bush
Administration has undertaken a review of nuclear policy and these issues are likely
to remain on the congressional agenda for the foreseeable future.
Introduction ................................................... 1
Background: U.S. Nuclear Posture During the Cold War..................2
Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Structure...........................3
Strategy and Doctrine....................................3
Targeting .............................................. 4
Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons.........................4
Strategic Nuclear Weapons.............................4
Ballistic Missile Defenses .....................................5
U.S. Nuclear Posture after the Cold War..............................7
Strategy, Doctrine and Force Structure...........................8
Strategy and Doctrine....................................8
Non-strategic Nuclear Forces..........................10
Strategic Nuclear Forces..............................10
Ballistic Missile Defenses ....................................13
Arms Control .............................................14
Alternative Futures for U.S. Nuclear Force Posture.....................15
Russia ............................................... 15
China ................................................ 16
Strategy, Doctrine and Force Structure..........................17
Strategy and Doctrine...................................17
Deterrence and Russia...............................17
Deterrence and Weapons of Mass Destruction.............18
Targeting Strategy and Employment Policy...................20
Forces into the Future................................24
Ballistic Missile Defenses ....................................25
Strategic Offensive Force Reductions........................28
Strategic Nuclear Force Posture............................31
Conclusion ................................................... 34
Table 1: Prospective U.S. Strategic Forces under
START I and START II.....................................12
U.S. Nuclear Weapons:
Policy, Force Structure, and Arms Control
For more than a decade, since the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall and the 1991
demise of the Soviet Union, analysts inside and outside government have offered a
wide range of views on how the United States should adjust its military establishment
to accommodate the changing international security environment. These analysts
sought to address not only the end of hostile U.S.-Soviet global rivalry, but also the
emergence of new threats and regional challenges, particularly those related to the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
The U.S. Department of Defense conducted several far-reaching reviews,
including the 1993 Bottom-Up Review, the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, and the
1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, that contributed to the Clinton Administration’s
response to changes in the international security environment. These formal reviews,
when combined with less prominent internal studies, resulted in numerous changes to
the structure of U.S. nuclear forces and policy guiding their potential use.
Many other analysts have written and spoken of alternatives for the role that
nuclear weapons should play in U.S. security policy, the numbers and types of
weapons that the United States should retain, and the role that arms control and other
cooperative efforts might play in reducing emerging threats to the United States.
Some believe the United States should move faster to reduce sharply the number of
nuclear weapons in its arsenal and to confine those weapons to a modest, limited role
in U.S. national security policy. They also note that negotiated limits and cooperative
activities, such as changes in operational practices for nuclear weapons, could reduce
the risks that Russia’s nuclear weapons might threaten the United States through an
inadvertent or intentional attack during a crisis. Furthermore, some believe that
formal arms control regimes and cooperation can help slow the proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.
Others have argued that, although the United States and Russia should continue
to reduce their nuclear weapons from high Cold War levels, it would not be in the
U.S. national security interest to reduce to very low numbers or to depreciate the role
of nuclear weapons in maintaining U.S. security. They believe that these weapons can
help deter emerging threats to the United States, even if those threats no longer
include the possibility of a global war with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, they argue
that continued instability and uncertainty in Russia argue against drastic, unilateral
changes in the U.S. nuclear force posture. Some also question whether there is a
future for formal arms control arrangements with Russia because they believe the
United States can pursue an independent course while economic pressures reduce the
size and role of Russia’s nuclear stockpile. Many also believe that the United States
should take unilateral actions, such as the deployment of wide-spread ballistic missile
defenses (BMD), to protect itself from Russia, China, or other nations that might be
armed with ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
This report reviews several aspects of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and force
posture. It begins with an overview of U.S. nuclear posture during the Cold War and
a summary of changes that have been adopted during the past several years. It then
describes current U.S. plans, as of the beginning of 2001, and policies governing the
possible use of nuclear weapons, the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,
and the way in which arms control agreements might alter that force structure in the
near future. The report then reviews some proposals offered by outside analysts as
alternatives to the Clinton Administration’s approach. It does not, however, address
possible changes that the Bush Administration might pursue in nuclear weapons and
strategy because nuclear policy is still under review and the results have not been
Background: U.S. Nuclear Posture During the Cold
During the Cold War, the United States developed and maintained its nuclear
arsenal so that it could deter, and if deterrence failed, defeat the Soviet Union. More
generally, it sought “nuclear and conventional capabilities sufficient to convince any
potential aggressor that the costs of aggression would exceed any potential gains that
he might achieve.”1 Because the Soviet Union was the only country with a nuclear
arsenal that could threaten the existence of the United States, U.S. policy reflected the
view that “the most significant threat to U.S. security interests remains the global
challenge posed by the Soviet Union.”2 Other countries, such as those in Soviet-
dominated Eastern Europe, were included in U.S. nuclear war plans, but their
presence reflected their relationship with the Soviet Union more than any independent
threat they might pose to the United States or its allies.
1U.S. Department of Defense. Annual Report to Congress. Fiscal Year 1985, by Caspar
Weinberger, Secretary of Defense. February 1, 1984. Washington, 1984. p. 27.
2The White House. National Security Strategy of the United States. January 1988,
Washington, 1988. p. 5.
Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Structure3
Strategy and Doctrine. During the 1950s and 1960s, the strategies known
as “massive retaliation” and “assured destruction” envisioned a large-scale U.S.
nuclear strike against a wide variety of targets in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe,
and China if the Soviet Union or its allies initiated a nuclear or large-scale
conventional attack against the United States or its allies.4 The objective was to
convince Soviet leaders that the Soviet Union would cease to exist as a functioning
society if it initiated a conflict against the United States or its allies. But critics
questioned the credibility of these policies, postulating that the Soviet Union would
not believe the United States would launch a massive response against Soviet military
and industrial targets, regardless of the size and nature of Soviet aggression, because
the Soviet Union could also retaliate with nuclear weapons against U.S. cities.
Hence, in the 1970s, the United States adopted a strategy of “flexible response,” and,
subsequently, a “countervailing strategy.” These policies emphasized retaliatory
strikes on Soviet military forces and war-making capabilities, as opposed to attacks
on civilian and industrial targets. They also called for limited, focused attacks, instead
of large-scale attacks on a greater number of sites. They were designed to give the
President options and flexibility, with respect to the timing, scale and the targets of
the attack, so that he could respond in a more selective manner after a Soviet attack.
U.S. nuclear weapons were designed to deter not only a direct nuclear attack on
the United States, but also nuclear, chemical, or conventional attack and coercion5
aimed at the U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. The theory underlying this doctrine of
“extended deterrence” was that if any level of aggression against U.S. allies could
escalate into a nuclear conflict that might involve attacks on the Soviet Union, then
the Soviet Union might be deterred from all levels of aggression. The United States
and its allies did not insist that they would respond to any type of attack with nuclear
weapons, but it sought to maintain the capability to do so and to control escalation
if nuclear weapons were used. Consequently, the United States would not forswear
the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Critics of this doctrine,
however, questioned whether the Soviet Union would believe that the United States
would use nuclear weapons to defend Europe, particularly when such a defense of
Europe might result in a Soviet nuclear attack against U.S. territory.
3The following discussion summarizes material originally presented in two other CRS
Reports. These are CRS Report 92-649F, Strategic Nuclear Forces After START: The
Relationship between Strategy, Doctrine, and Deep Reductions, August 12 1992; and CRS
Report 96-645F, Nuclear Weapons in U.S. Defense Policy: Issues for Congress, updated July
4For a more detailed discussion of U.S. nuclear strategy and doctrine see Ball, Desmond. The
Development of the SIOP, 1960-1983, in Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson, Strategic
Nuclear Targeting, Cornell University Press, 1986, pp. 57-83; and Ball, Desmond and Robert
C. Toth. Revising the SIOP: Taking War-Fighting to Dangerous Extremes. International
Security, v. 14. Spring 1990.
5The White House. National Security Strategy of the United States. January 1988,
Washington, 1988. p. 13.
Targeting. In 1990, General John Chain, the Commander in Chief of the
Strategic Command, outlined U.S. targeting strategy for nuclear weapons in
testimony before Congress. He stated that “the task is to be able to deter any
possessor of nuclear weapons from attacking the United States by having a postured
retaliatory force significant enough to destroy what the attacker holds most dear...
Against this macro mission, target categories are designated. Within these target
categories, a finite list of targets are designated; and against those targets, weapons
are allocated.” These target categories reportedly included Soviet strategic nuclear
forces, other military forces, military and political leadership, and industrial facilities.6
The United States sought the capability to destroy thousands of sites in these target
categories, even if the Soviet Union destroyed many U.S. weapons in a first strike,
which created requirements for many thousands of nuclear weapons in the U.S.
Force Structure. During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained
many types of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons, including short-range missiles
and artillery for use on the battlefield, medium-range missiles and aircraft that could
strike targets beyond the theater of battle, short- and medium-range systems based on
surface ships, long-range missiles based on U.S. territory and submarines, and heavy
bombers that could threaten Soviet targets from their bases in the United States. The
long-range missiles and heavy bombers are known as strategic nuclear weapons; the
short- and medium-range systems are considered non-strategic nuclear weapons and
have been referred to as battlefield, tactical, and theater nuclear weapons.
Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons. At one time in the early 1970s, the
United States deployed thousands of non-strategic nuclear weapons at bases in
Europe, Japan, and South Korea, but it had begun to reduce these forces by the late
1970s, in part because NATO officials believed they could maintain deterrence with
fewer, but more modern, weapons.7 Modernization programs continued to enhance
the capabilities of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons throughout the 1980s,
particularly through the deployment of ground-launched cruise missiles and
intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe. However, by the end of that decade,
as the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the United States had canceled or scaled back all
planned modernization programs and pursued arms control efforts that would sharply
reduce the number of weapons deployed at bases in Europe and Asia.
Strategic Nuclear Weapons. Since the early 1960s the United States has
maintained a “triad” of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, which consists of land-
based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles
(SLBMs) and long-range heavy bombers. As the forces and doctrine developed
6Statement by John T. Chain, Jr. Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command and Director,
Strategic Target Planning, before the House Armed Services Committee. March 6, 1990.
Prepared Text, p. 5.
7The numbers of operational U.S. non-strategic nuclear warheads declined from more than
7,000 in the mid-1970s to below 6,000 in the 1980s, to fewer than 1,000 by the middle of the
1990s. See Toward a Nuclear Peace: The Future of Nuclear Weapons in U.S. Foreign and
Defense Policy. Report of the CSIS Nuclear Strategy Study Group, Washington, D.C.
Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993. p. 27.
during the 1960s and 1970s, many analysts noted that these different basing modes
would enhance deterrence and discourage a Soviet first strike because they
complicated Soviet attack planning and ensured the survivability of a significant8
portion of the U.S. force in the event of a Soviet first strike. The different
characteristics of each weapon system might also strengthen the credibility of U.S.
targeting strategy. For example, ICBMs eventually had the accuracy and prompt
responsiveness needed to attack hardened targets such as Soviet command posts and
ICBM silos, SLBMs had the survivability needed to complicate Soviet efforts to
launch a disarming first strike and to retaliate if such an attack were attempted, and
heavy bombers could be dispersed quickly and launched to enhance their survivability,
and they could be recalled to their bases if a crisis did not escalate into conflict.
As with non-strategic nuclear weapons, modernization programs continued to
enhance the capabilities of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War
era. These programs culminated with the deployment of Peacekeeper (MX) ICBMs
and Trident submarines and Trident II (D-5) SLBMs in the mid-1980s and 1990s
and with the deployment of the B-2 (Stealth) bomber in the 1990s. The United States
also continued to add to the numbers of its deployed strategic nuclear weapons
through the end of the 1980s. However, by the early 1990s, the numbers of warheads
deployed on U.S. strategic nuclear forces began to decline.
Ballistic Missile Defenses
The United States has pursued research and development on anti-ballistic missile
(ABM) systems since the early 1950s. In the mid-1960s it developed the Sentinel
system, which would have used ground-based, nuclear-armed interceptor missiles to
protect a number of major U.S. urban centers against Soviet attack. In 1969, the
Nixon Administration renamed the system “Safeguard,” and changed its focus to
deployment around ICBM fields to ensure that these missiles could survive a first
strike and retaliate against the Soviet Union. Congress almost stopped the program
in 1969, when the Senate voted 50-50 to approve an amendment halting construction.
Safeguard continued, however, when Vice President Spiro Agnew broke the tie with
a vote for the program.
Negotiations with the Soviet Union on the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty
began in November 1969. The two sides eventually agreed that each nation could
deploy two ABM sites, one around its capital and one around an ICBM field. When
it became clear that neither nation would complete a second site, the two sides
agreed, in a 1974 Protocol, that each would have only one ABM site. The United
States completed its ABM site around ICBM fields near Grand Forks, North Dakota.
It operated for a short time in 1974 and 1975, then was shut down because it was not
considered to be cost-effective, in other words, the costs of operating the system,
even in peacetime, were thought to be high relative to the limited protection it offered.
The facilities at that location, however, continue to count under the ABM Treaty
because they have not been completely dismantled according to a post-Treaty
8U.S. Department of Defense. Annual Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 1989, by Frank
Carlucci, Secretary of Defense. February 18, 1988. Washington, 1988. p. 54.
agreement reached with the Soviet Union. Russia continues to operate and modernize
its ABM site around Moscow.
U.S. research and development into ABM systems, especially for ICBM
protection, continued, albeit at lower budget levels through the late 1970s, before
rising again during the Carter Administration. The Reagan Administration further
increased this funding after President Reagan announced an expansive effort, known
as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), to develop non-nuclear ballistic missile
defenses that would protect the United States against a full-scale attack from the
Soviet Union. The program’s supporters envisioned a large-scale defensive system
with thousands of land-, sea-, air-, and space-based sensors and interceptors.
However, as cost estimates and technical challenges increased, the Reagan
Administration announced that it would begin with more limited deployment of land-
based and space-based sensors and interceptors that would seek to disrupt and deter
an incoming attack, instead of providing complete protection. The Bush
Administration further scaled back the goals for SDI, stating that the United States
would seek to deploy a defensive system that could protect against small-scale missile
attacks from the Soviet Union or other U.S. adversaries.
Both the Reagan and Bush Administrations recognized that their ballistic missile
defense programs would eventually conflict with the 1972 ABM Treaty. Neither
Administration officially proposed that the United States withdraw from that Treaty,
but both initiated discussions with the Soviet Union (and Russia) in an effort to
modify or replace the ABM Treaty with an agreement that would permit the more
wide-spread deployment of ballistic missile defenses. Neither succeeded, and, at the
end of the Bush Administration, the 1972 ABM Treaty continued to affect planning
for the deployment of defenses against long-range strategic ballistic missiles
During the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet arms control negotiations were often seen
as a barometer of U.S-Soviet relations; at times they were one of the few venues for
regular meetings between the two sides. The United States and Soviet Union signed
three strategic nuclear arms control agreements during the 1970s. These included the
1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and Interim Agreement on Offensive Forces
(known as SALT I, for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) and the 1979 Strategic Arms
Limitation Treaty (SALT II), which was never ratified. Many supporters hoped that
the ABM Treaty would help contain the arms race in offensive weapons because,
without widespread defenses, neither side would need to expand its offensive force
structure to saturate or overcome the defenses of the other side. The complementary
Interim Agreement on Offensive Arms sought to freeze the number of offensive
missile launchers on each side, until the parties could complete a formal treaty that
would achieve this objective. The SALT II Treaty would have imposed small
reductions in the numbers of missile launchers, but it never entered into force.9
9After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, President Carter withdrew the Treaty
from Senate Consideration. However, it is likely that the Senate would have failed to consent
to the Treaty’s ratification anyway, because many Members had raised concerns about the
Furthermore, because the Interim Agreement and SALT II Treaties only limited the
numbers of missile launchers and heavy bombers, both sides could increase the
number of warheads carried on their offensive forces by deploying missiles with
multiple warheads (MIRVed missiles) instead of single-warhead missiles.
Consequently, although many analysts believed that arms control could help stabilize
the nuclear balance between the United States and Soviet Union, most agreed that it
had done little to slow the arms race between the two powers by the end of the 1970s.
However, as the Cold War drew to a close in the late 1980s, the United States
and Soviet Union began to sign arms control agreements that would reduce their force
levels.10 The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated all U.S. and
Soviet shorter-range, medium-range, and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise
missiles. The first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which was signed
in July 1991, limits each side to 6,000 accountable warheads on, at most, 1,600
strategic offensive delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers). This
would reduce the numbers of warheads deployed on U.S. and Soviet strategic
offensive forces by about one-third from their highest levels during the Cold War.
After the Soviet Union disbanded, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia became
parties to START I, and all except Russia agreed to eliminate all of the nuclear
weapons on their territories. This treaty entered into force in December 1994, and
implementation will continue through 2001. Finally, after the demise of the Soviet
Union, the United States and Russia signed the START II Treaty in January 1993.
This treaty would limit each side to 3,500 warheads on strategic offensive forces.
While the U.S. Senate approved ratification of START II in January 1996, it has not
yet entered into force because the Russian parliament has not yet acted on the treaty.
U.S. Nuclear Posture after the Cold War
Both the first Bush and Clinton Administrations modified somewhat the U.S.
nuclear posture in response to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, demise of the Soviet
Union, and changing international security environment. These changes recognized
not only the reduced risks of a global conflict with the Soviet Union or Russia, but
also the increased risks posed by other nations that might acquire weapons of mass
destruction and ballistic missiles. This section summarizes some of the changes that
have occurred in the past ten years.
In its 1995 National Security Strategy report, the Clinton Administration states
that “the dissolution of the Soviet empire has radically transformed the security
environment facing the United States and our allies. The primary security imperative
provisions in the Treaty and Soviet behavior around the world.
10For details on the provisions in these treaties see Arms Control and Nonproliferation
Activities: A Catalog of Recent Events. Amy F. Woolf, Coordinator. CRS Report 30033.
January 4, 1999.
of the past half century — containing communist expansion while preventing nuclear
war — is gone.”11 The Administration did, however, determine that Russia remained
a concern for U.S. national security “not because its intentions are hostile, but because
it controls the only nuclear arsenal that can physically threaten the survivability of
U.S. nuclear forces. A significant shift in the Russian government into the hands of
arch-conservatives could restore the strategic nuclear threat to the United States
literally overnight.” In 1997, the Administration noted that “Russia maintains a large
and modern arsenal of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons.” It further argued
that this arsenal would remain formidable even if START II entered into force and
produced reductions to 3,500 warheads on each side.12
Additionally, the Clinton Administration identified other pressing threats to U.S.
national security. In its National Security Strategy Report for 1998, the
Administration noted that “a number of states still have the capabilities and the desire
to threaten our vital interests...” and, that, “in many cases, these states are also
actively improving their offensive capabilities, including efforts to obtain or retain
nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, and in some cases, long-range delivery
systems.” The report went on to declare that “weapons of mass destruction pose the
greatest potential threat to global stability and security. Proliferation of advanced
weapons and technologies threatens to provide rogue states, terrorists, and
international crime organizations the means to inflict terrible damage on the United
States, its allies, and U.S. citizens and troops abroad.”13 Russia also remained a focus
of concern with this type of threat as a potential supplier of materials, technologies,
and know-how that other nations might use in their efforts to produce their own
nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and long-range missiles.
Strategy, Doctrine and Force Structure
Strategy and Doctrine.Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton Administration
argued that nuclear weapons remained important to deter the range of threats faced
by the United States. Secretary of Defense Perry outlined this view in his Annual
Report for 1995, noting that “recent international upheavals have not changed the
calculation that nuclear weapons remain an essential part of American military power.
Concepts of deterrence ... continue to be central to the U.S. nuclear posture. Thus,
the United States will continue to threaten retaliation, including nuclear retaliation,14
to deter aggression against the United States, U.S. forces, and allies.” More
recently, the Clinton Administration argued that “the United States must continue to
maintain a robust triad of strategic forces sufficient to deter any hostile foreign
leadership with access to nuclear forces and to convince it that seeking a nuclear
11A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement. The White House,
February 1995. Washington, D.C. p. 1.
12U.S. Department of Defense. Annual Report to the President and Congress. William S.
Cohen, Secretary of Defense. April 1997. Washington, D.C., p. 11.
13A National Security Strategy for a New Century. The White House, October 1998.
Washington, D.C. p. 6.
14U.S. Department of Defense. Annual Report to the President and Congress, by Secretary
of Defense William Perry. Washington D.C., February 1995. p. 84.
advantage would be futile.” This is because “nuclear weapons serve as a hedge
against an uncertain future, a guarantee of our security commitments to allies and a
disincentive to those who would contemplate developing or otherwise acquiring their15
own nuclear weapons.”
The Clinton Administration did, however, issue new guidelines for U.S. nuclear
strategy in late 1997. These guidelines stated that “our military planning for the
possible employment of nuclear weapons is focused on deterring a nuclear war rather
than attempting to fight and win a protracted nuclear exchange.” But, the United
States would continue “to emphasize the survivability of the nuclear systems and
infrastructure necessary to endure a preemptive attack and still respond at16
overwhelming levels.” Details about these changes, and reactions from analysts
outside government, are discussed in more detail below.
NATO has also altered its nuclear strategy to reflect the demise of the Soviet
Union and Warsaw Pact. In 1991, NATO declared that it no longer maintains nuclear
weapons to deter or defeat a conventional attack launched by Soviet and Warsaw
Pact forces because “the threat of a simultaneous, full-scale attack on all of NATO’s
European fronts has effectively been removed.”17 And according to NATO
documents, nuclear weapons play a far smaller role in Alliance strategy than they did
during the Cold War. Nevertheless, the NATO allies have reaffirmed the importance
of nuclear weapons for deterrence. The “New Strategic Concept” signed in April
1999 states that “to protect peace and to prevent war or any kind of coercion, the
Alliance will maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and
conventional forces. Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the
risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable.” Furthermore,
nuclear weapons ensure “uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature
of the Allies’ response to military aggression. They demonstrate that aggression of
any kind is not a rational option.”18
Targeting Strategy. In the past decade, the Department of Defense has
conducted several studies that reviewed U.S. nuclear targeting strategy and weapons
employment policy. According to published reports, these reviews have revised and
greatly reduced the length of the target list, but the basic tenets remain the same.
According to the Washington Post, “the United States primary nuclear war plan still
targets Russia and provides the President an option for counterattack within 30
minutes of confirmed enemy launch.”19 The Clinton Administration reportedly
15A National Security Strategy for a New Century. The White House, October 1998.
Washington, D.C. p. 12.
16Ibid. p. 12.
17North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Alliance’s Strategic Concept. Brussels, Belgium,
NATO Office of Information and Press, 1991. Para. 8.
18The Alliance’s Strategic Concept, Approved by the Heads of State and Government
participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. on 23rd and
19“Secretary Cheney and General Powell and their aides threw thousands of targets out of the
compiled the results of the early studies when it altered the official guidance for
nuclear targeting strategy and employment policy in Presidential Decision Directive
(PDD)60. Clinton Administration officials noted that the change in strategy from
seeking to win a protracted nuclear war to seeking to deter nuclear war would permit
the United States to reduce its forces to 2,000-2500 deployed warheads, the levels
under consideration for a START III Treaty. But they also noted that this did not
indicate any change in the structure of U.S. nuclear war plans or in the variety of
options available to the President for a U.S. retaliatory strike.
Force Structure. During the 1990s, the United States has reduced both the
numbers and types of weapons in its nuclear arsenal. Some of these changes reflect
the imposition of negotiated arms control limits; others reflect changes in U.S.
objectives and nuclear force posture. The latter is particularly true for changes that
have occurred in U.S. non-strategic nuclear forces.
Non-strategic Nuclear Forces. On September 27, 1991, President George
Bush announced that the United States would withdraw all land-based tactical nuclear
weapons (those that could travel less than 300 miles) from overseas bases and all sea-
based tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. surface ships, submarines, and naval20
aircraft. These initiatives affected more than 2,500 nuclear warheads that had been
deployed on shorter range delivery systems.21 Furthermore, in late 1991, NATO
decided to reduce by about half the number of weapons for nuclear-capable aircraft
based in Europe, which led to the withdrawal of an additional 700 U.S. air-delivered
nuclear weapons. The United States currently maintains an estimated 1,000 warheads
for its active stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.22 This number includes
around 500 air-delivered weapons that may still be stored at bases in Europe. The
remainder are air-delivered weapons and around 350 nuclear-armed sea-launched
cruise missiles that are stored at facilities in the United States.
Strategic Nuclear Forces. The United States continues to maintain a triad
of strategic nuclear forces, with warheads deployed on land-based ICBMs, submarine-
launched SLBMs, and heavy bombers. According to the Department of Defense, this
SIOP (single integrated operational plan), helping to reduce it from its Cold War peak of more
than 40,000 to about 10,000 by 1991.” In addition “General Butler reviewed each target one-
by-one tossing many out ... one day he eliminated 1,000 targets in newly liberated Eastern
Europe...” By 1994, General Butler had helped to pare the SIOP to 2,500 targets. See
Ottaway, David B. and Steve Coll. Trying to Unplug the War Machine. Washington Post,
April 12, 1995. p. A28.
20These steps were not contingent on reciprocal actions by the Soviet Union, but, on October
21The United States maintained the capability to return sea-based nuclear weapons to aircraft
carriers and submarines. In 1994, the Department of Defense Nuclear Posture Review
recommended that the United States no longer maintain that capability on aircraft carriers,
although it still could return nuclear-armed cruise missiles to attack submarines.
22NRDC Nuclear Notebook. U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, July 1998. Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists, v. 54, July/August 1998. p. 70.
mix of forces offers the United States a range of capabilities and flexibility in nuclear
planning, complicates an adversary’s attack planning, and hedges against unexpected
problems in any single delivery system. During the past 10 years, the number of
warheads deployed on these strategic nuclear forces has declined from a Cold War
high of around 12,000 warheads to fewer than 9,000 warheads. Most of this
reduction has occurred through the implementation of the first Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (START I). At the same time though, the improving relationship
between the United States and Soviet Union in the late 1980s eased pressures to
pursue some strategic force modernization programs, while declining defense budgets
in the United States in the early 1990s contributed to decisions to scale back nuclear
The United States is currently reducing its forces to START I levels. As the
table below demonstrates, these reductions will leave the United States with 18
Trident submarines with 24 8-warhead missiles on each submarine; 500 Minuteman
III ICBMs, with up to 3 warheads on each missile; 50 Peacekeeper (MX) missiles,
with 10 warheads on each missile; between 71 and 94 B-52H bombers, with up to 20
cruise missiles on each bomber; and 21 B-2 bombers with up to 16 bombs on each
Table 1: Prospective U.S. Strategic Forces under
START I and START II23
July 2000START I START II
(Actual)(December 2001)(December 2007)
Launcher Warhead Launcher Warhead Launcher Warheads
Peacekeeper 50 500 50 500 0 0
Poseidon 32 320 0 0 0 0
Trident 192 1,536 192 1,536 0 0
with Trident I
Trident 240 1,920 240 1,920 336 1,680
with Trident II
Totals 1,437 7,830 1,888 5,952 928 3,456
Congress has mandated that the United States maintain its forces at START I
levels the START II Treaty enters into force, or until the new Bush Administration
completes a Nuclear Posture Review that indicates forces can be reduced.24 The table
also shows the forces that the Department of Defense has indicated the United States
would retain under this Treaty. But budget pressures may lead to an earlier round of
23The numbers on this table reflect “counting rules” in the START Treaties. These rules
attribute a specified number of warheads to each type of delivery vehicle. In some cases, the
warheads attributed by counting rules do not equal the actual number of warheads carried by
a specified missile or bomber. The START rules also count the warheads on delivery
vehicles until the delivery vehicles are dismantled according to provisions in the Treaty, even
if the warheads have been removed and the delivery vehicles have been deactivated. As a
result, these data may not represent the actual number of operational warheads in the U.S.
24The U.S. Senate approved ratification of START II in January 1996 and the Russian
parliament did so in April, 2000, but the Treaty has not yet entered into force.
reductions in U.S. strategic nuclear forces. The Navy would like to retire 4 of the
Trident submarines so that it does not have to bear the costs of refueling their reactors
and modifying them to carry the newer Trident II (D-5) ballistic missiles.
Ballistic Missile Defenses
The Clinton Administration restructured the BMD programs it inherited from the
Bush Administration to emphasize theater missile defense development and
deployment efforts, and to focus national missile defense (NMD) efforts on
technology development. According to Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, these
changes reflected an assessment that the regional ballistic missile threat already
existed, while a ballistic missile threat to the United States, other than the long-
standing threats from Russia and China, might emerge only in the future. In 1996, the
Clinton Administration adopted a new policy, the 3+3 strategy, to guide NMD
development and potential deployment. Under this strategy, the United States would
develop an NMD system that would be designed to defend the United States against
attacks from small numbers of long-range ballistic missiles launched by hostile nations,
or, perhaps, from an accidental or unauthorized launch of Russian or Chinese missiles.
The 3+3 strategy envisioned continued development of NMD technologies during the
first 3 years (1997-2000), followed by a deployment decision (in 2000) if the system
were technologically feasible and warranted by prospective threats. If a decision to
deploy an NMD system were made, the plan then was to deploy it within the second
three year period (2000-2003). The Administration stated that development and
deployment would be conducted within the limits of the ABM Treaty.
The Administration modified its 3+3 strategy in January 1999. First, it added
$6.6 billion for NMD to the FY 1999-2005 FYDP and brought total NMD funding
for the FYDP to $10.5 billion. The Administration emphasized that an NMD
deployment decision still would not be made until June 2000, but that now there was
money in the FYDP to protect and pursue the deployment option in the event a
deployment decision was made. In addition, the Administration announced that it had
restructured the NMD program for a possible deployment date of 2005, rather than
2003. This change was made, according to the Pentagon, to reduce the amount of
risk in the program and to maximize its success. According to BMDO, the new
schedule allowed a more manageable test program and would defer key decisions until
actual NMD tests were completed. In addition, the Administration acknowledged
that it would have to approach the Russians with proposals for amendments to the
ABM Treaty that would permit the deployment of an effective, although limited,
NMD system. However, after a test failure in July 2000, President Clinton
announced, on September 1, 2000, that he would not authorize the deployment of an
NMD system and would, instead, leave the decision to his successor.
On May 1, 2001, President Bush underscored his Administration’s commitment
to deploy a more robust missile defense system than the one considered by the Clinton
Administration. The President stated that the world had changed, that the United
States faced new threats, and that it could no longer rely on the Cold War-era
doctrine of nuclear deterrence to safeguard its national security. He stated that “we
need new concepts of deterrence that rely on both offensive and defensive forces.”
He did not outline a specific missile defense architecture, but he indicated that “we
can draw on already established technologies that might involve land-based and sea-
based capabilities to intercept missiles in mid-course or after they re-enter the
The Clinton Administration sought to advance the arms control process that it
inherited from previous Administrations. For example, it negotiated the Protocol that
named Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia as parties to START I, and a
trilateral agreement with Russia and Ukraine that led to Ukraine’s agreement to return
the nuclear warheads on its territory to Russia. These efforts resulted in the
December 1994 ratification of START I. The Clinton Administration has also pressed
for the ratification of START II, which was signed in the waning days of the Bush
Administration. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to START II ratification
in January 1996. The Russian parliament approved the Treaty on April 14, 2000, but
it Russia will not exchange the Instruments of Ratification until the United States
approves several agreements signed in 1997. These include a Protocol to START II,
signed in September 1997, that would extend the elimination period in the Treaty.
The two sides also established a framework for START III, which they would begin
negotiations on after START II entered into force. These efforts sought to address
some of the concerns expressed in the Russian parliament about START II in the
hope that they would ease ratification.25 The Clinton Administration did not, however,
proposed any steps that would reduce U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces below
START II levels in the absence of a formal treaty. President Bush has stated that he
would explore this alternative in his Administration. Therefore, it is likely that the
Bush Administration would not pursue the arms control agenda described here.
The Clinton Administration also pursued negotiations with Russia to modify and
clarify the 1972 ABM Treaty. In 1997, these negotiations produced a Memorandum
of Understanding on Succession, which named Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and
Kazakhstan as successors to the Soviet Union for the ABM Treaty; and two Agreed
Statements on Demarcation to set out a dividing line between strategic ballistic missile
defense systems, which are limited by the ABM Treaty, and theater ballistic missile
defense systems, which are not limited by the ABM Treaty.26 The Administration has
agreed to submit these documents to the Senate as amendments to the ABM Treaty,
but it will not do so until the Russian parliament approves the ratification of START
II. The Clinton Administration has also conducted discussions with the Russians
about possible amendments to the ABM Treaty that would be needed for the United
States to deploy a national missile defense system. The Bush Administration may not
pursue these discussions, as the President has said that the United States must move
beyond the limits in the ABM Treaty to deploy effective missile defenses.
25For details see U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service. START II
Debate in the Russian Duma: Issues and Prospects. Amy F. Woolf. Updated August 27,
26For details see U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service. Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty Demarcation and Succession Agreements: Background and Issues. Amy F.
Woolf. May 22, 1998.
During the 1990s, the United States also provided Russia and other former
Soviet republics with assistance in storing, transporting, and dismantling many of the
nuclear weapons and facilities inherited from the Soviet Union. Many of these efforts
occur under the auspices of the Department of Defense’s Nunn-Lugar Cooperative
Threat Reduction (CTR) Program.27 Congress created this program in late 1991, in
response to concerns about the potential loss of control over weapons as the Soviet
Union disintegrated, and it has authorized around $400 million per year for this effort.
A parallel effort run by the Department of Energy seeks to buy nuclear materials in
the former Soviet Union and to dissuade scientists and engineers who worked in the
Soviet nuclear complex from selling their knowledge and skills to other nations
seeking nuclear weapons. Although these efforts are not enunciated in formal treaties
between the United States and Russia, many observers consider them to be an integral
part of the arms control and threat reduction process.
Alternative Futures for U.S. Nuclear Force Posture
When discussing and debating the future of U.S. nuclear weapons, many
government officials and outside analysts offer similar views on the threats that the
United States is likely to face in the coming years. They do not, however, agree on
the role that nuclear weapons or other measures, such as missile defense or arms
control, should play in responding to that threat.
Russia. The Clinton Administration stated that Russia no longer poses a global
threat to the United States and U.S. interests, but it remained concerned that Russia
might one day return to such a posture. For example, in testimony before the Senate
Armed Services Committee, Assistant Secretary of Defense Edward Warner argued
that a “stable transition in Russia is by no means assured” and that the United States
“must hedge against the possibility that Russia, which continues to maintain a
formidable nuclear arsenal consisting of thousands of deliverable strategic and tactical
warheads, could reemerge at some time in the future as a threat to the West.”28
Many analysts agree that the United States should continue to view Russia’s
nuclear arsenal as a threat to the United States. Conservative analysts tend to focus
on the potential for a renewed threat from weapons in a conflict with the United
States or other nations. A recent report published by the National Defense University
(NDU) argued that the main threat from Russia stems from the fact that it still
possesses thousands of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the authors note that Russia
has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons to compensate for weaknesses in its
27For details see U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service. Nunn-Lugar
Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs: Issues for Congress. Amy F. Woolf. Updated
November 23, 1998.
28Statement of the Honorable Edward L. Warner, III. Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction, Before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic
Forces. April 14, 1999.
conventional forces.29 Many analysts from both conservative and liberal organizations
have also focused on the threat that these weapons might pose if Russia were to lose
control over them, either because of political instability or because of weaknesses in
Russia’s nuclear weapons command and control system. Furthermore, most agree
that weaknesses in Russia’s early warning system for ballistic missile attack could lead
to a situation in which Russian leaders launched a retaliatory strike in response to
ambiguous or incomplete information.30 Many also note that Russia poses a
significant threat as a source of technology and materials for other nations seeking
their own ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction.
China. The Clinton Administration did not consider China to pose a direct
threat to the United States as a regional or global adversary. Nevertheless, in his
testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Assistant Secretary Warner
noted that although China has a much smaller nuclear force than Russia’s, it is still
formidable. He also stated that “China continues to make steady efforts to modernize
those forces” and that the United States cannot be sure that it would not need nuclear
weapons to deter China in the future.
Many conservative analysts have expressed stronger concerns about the potential
threat from China. For example, the NDU report argues that “China has the
resources and skills to expand its nuclear capability and to pose a greater threat to the
U.S. in the future.” Furthermore, China may want to deter U.S. intervention in
regional crises in Asia, while the United States may want to deter Chinese military
action in those crises.31 The authors of this report argue that both nations might find
nuclear weapons to be useful under these circumstances. Others, however, believe
that, although China may challenge the United States in regional crises in Asia,
nuclear weapons will not play a large role in that strategy. They argue that China’s
nuclear arsenal will remain far smaller than the U.S. arsenal, so U.S. nuclear forces
could deter Chinese nuclear threats. Furthermore, they argue that the United States
should seek to include China in arms reduction negotiations if the United States were
to reduce its forces to levels close to those deployed by China.
Weapons Proliferation. The Clinton Administration stated that “weapons
of mass destruction pose the greatest potential threat to global stability and security”
and that the proliferation of these advanced weapons and technologies “threatens to
provide rogue states, terrorists, and international crime organizations the means to
inflict terrible damage on the United States, its allies, and U.S. citizens and troops
29U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
Requirements. Center for Counterproliferation Research, National Defense University and
Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Final
Report. September 1998. pp. 2.16-2.17.
30For a description of the weaknesses in Russia’s early warning network of satellites and radar
systems, see U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Improving Russia’s Access to Early-Warning
Information: Preliminary Results. Letter to the Honorable Tom Daschle. September 3, 1998.
p. 6. See, also, Simon Saradzhyan. Lack of Cash, Old Satellites Take Toll on Russia
Systems. Defense News, May 10, 1999. p. 12.
31U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
Requirements. p. 2.17.
abroad.”32 Analysts across the political spectrum tend to agree that the United States
is likely to face challenges from regional adversaries, such as Iran, Iraq, and North
Korea, who may be armed with these weapons. They disagree, however, on the role
that U.S. nuclear weapons should play in deterring or responding to this threat.
Strategy, Doctrine and Force Structure
Strategy and Doctrine. Clinton Administration officials stated that nuclear
weapons would continue to play an important role in U.S. national security strategy,
even though that role has diminished since the end of the Cold War. Specifically, in
press accounts that followed the completion of PDD-60 in late 1997, Robert Bell, the
Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control at the National Security Council
(NSC), stated that “it would be a mistake to think that nuclear weapons no longer
matter. Such weapons are still needed to deter aggression and coercion by
threatening a response that would be certain and overwhelming and devastating.”33
Deterrence and Russia. As noted above, PDD-60 scaled back the U.S.
objectives for nuclear deterrence with Russia. Instead of maintaining a force posture
that would allow it to fight and win a nuclear war with Russia, the United States
would maintain a force posture to deter conflict with Russia. In practice, this change
probably meant that the United States would not seek to cause as much damage
against as wide a range of targets as it had planned on attacking in previous war plans.
This change reflected a new international security environment and helped to reduce
the required number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Administration officials
noted that this change was intended, in part, to accommodate the lower force levels
projected for a START III treaty.34
Many analysts outside government praised the emphasis on deterrence in U.S.
nuclear strategy. They noted that the goal of fighting and winning a nuclear war had
never been credible and that the lesser objectives were more in line with political35
reality since the demise of the Soviet Union. However, some liberal analysts had
hoped for more fundamental changes, arguing that, with the end of the Cold War, the
United States could pursue a relationship with Russia “in which nuclear deterrence
and mutual assured destruction would no longer play a central role.”36 In contrast,
some conservative analysts did not like the change in focus away from protracted war
32A National Security Strategy for a New Century. The White House, October 1998.
Washington, D.C. p. 6.
33Smith, R. Jeffrey. Clinton Directive Changes Strategy on Nuclear Arms; Centering on
Deterrence, Officials Drop Terms for Long Atomic War. Washington Post, December 7,
34Cerniello, Craig. Clinton Issues New Guidelines on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Doctrine. Arms
Control Today. November/December 1997.
35See, for example, Keeney, Spurgeon M. Focus: One Step Forward. Arms Control Today,
36Reformation and Resistance: Nongovernmental Organizations and the Future of Nuclear
Weapons, by Cathleen S. Fisher. The Henry L. Stimson Center, Report no. 29. May 1999.
fighting because they believed it would signal U.S. weakness at a time of growing
global uncertainty. Furthermore, some felt it sent the wrong message to Russia at a
time when Russia has been increasing its reliance on nuclear weapons to offset37
weaknesses in its conventional forces.
Deterrence and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Many press reports
about PDD-60 highlighted the document’s provisions covering the use of U.S. nuclear
weapons to deter nations, other than Russia, with weapons of mass destruction. Most
reporters viewed this as an “expansion” of the role of U.S. nuclear weapons.
However, the United States has always maintained the option to use nuclear weapons
in response to attacks with conventional, chemical, or biological weapons. During the
Cold War, this option was generally directed towards the Soviet Union and Warsaw
Pact nations, and reflected NATO’s strategy of flexible response. On the other hand,
the United States has made the political commitment, through its negative security
assurance issued in conjunction with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), not
to threaten or attack with nuclear weapons non-nuclear weapons states that are
parties to the NPT. Nonetheless, the United States has explicitly refused to adopt a
strict “no-first use” policy for nuclear weapons, and PDD-60 apparently continued
this policy. Robert Bell reportedly stated that PDD-60 reaffirmed the U.S. negative
security assurance, but he also said that the United States reserved the right to use
nuclear weapons first “if a state is not a state in good standing under the Nuclear-
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or an equivalent international convention.”38 And he
reportedly stated that PDD-60 repeated earlier Administration statements that any
nation might forfeit its protections under the negative security assurance if it attacked39
the United States or U.S. forces with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Several Clinton Administration officials addressed this issue. Former Secretary
of Defense William Perry stated that the United States would not specify how it
would respond to WMD use, but an aggressor could be certain that the U.S. response
would be “both overwhelming and devastating.” Assistant Secretary of Defense
Edward Warner testified that “the U.S. capability to deliver an overwhelming, rapid,
and devastating military response with the full range of military capabilities will remain
the cornerstone of our strategy for deterring rogue nation ballistic missile and WMD
proliferation threats. The very existence of U.S. strategic and theater nuclear forces,
backed by highly capable conventional forces, should certainly give pause to any
rogue leader contemplating the use of WMD against the United States, its overseas40
deployed forces, or its allies.” Hence, the United States will neither forswear the use
37Landay, Jonathan S. U.S. Downsizes its Nuclear-Weapon Ambitions. Christian Science
Monitor. December 24, 1997.
38Cerniello, Craig. Clinton Issues New Guidelines on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Doctrine. Arms
Control Today. November/December 1997.
39Smith, R. Jeffrey. Clinton Directive Changes Strategy on Nuclear Arms; Centering on
Deterrence, Officials Drop Terms for Long Atomic War. Washington Post, December 7,
40Statement of the Honorable Edward L. Warner, III. Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction, Before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic
of nuclear weapons in response to conventional, chemical, or biological attack; nor
will it specify that it would use nuclear weapons under these circumstances.
This policy of “studied ambiguity” about the possible first use of nuclear
weapons has brought comments and criticisms from many analysts. Some have
offered general support for the policy, as long as the United States maintains a
credible nuclear deterrent so that it could respond to WMD attacks with nuclear
weapons if it chose to do so. For example, the NDU study notes that the current
policy attempts to make clear that no state can plan on the use of chemical or
biological weapons without having to take into account the possibility of a nuclear
response. This would not only deter WMD use during a crisis, but might also deter
the acquisition of chemical or biological weapons because a nation would not want
to risk a U.S. nuclear response if it ever used its stocks. The NDU study noted,
however, that, in some cases, this ambiguity might be viewed as a lack of commitment
by the United States and may need to be replaced by greater clarity in the deterrent41
threat. Others have also argued that the United States should explicitly threaten
nuclear retaliation for WMD use, and particularly biological weapons attacks, since
these can produce casualties on the same scale as nuclear weapons.42 One such
analyst, David C. Gompert, has stated that the current ambiguity “dulls deterrence.”
He believes that the United States should warn explicitly both that it might respond
with nuclear weapons to WMD attacks against U.S. interests, and that it would not
use nuclear weapons except in response to WMD attacks. This policy would make
it clear to rogue states that biological weapons cannot be used and possessing them43
could endanger their possessors because they could cause a nuclear response.
Many other analysts argue the exact opposite position. They believe that the
United States should restrict nuclear weapons to the core objective of deterring
nuclear attack on the United States and explicitly forswear the use of nuclear weapons
for any other reason. According to this school of thought, if the United States
threatens to retaliate for conventional, chemical, or biological attacks with nuclear
weapons, it is increasing the value of nuclear weapons and demonstrating that they
have military utility. This would undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts and
encourage other countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons to deter chemical or
biological weapons.44 Some also argue that such a policy is not credible because no
Forces. April 14, 1999.
41U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
Requirements. p. 2.41.
42David C. Ochmanek and Richard Sokolsky have argued that “while ambiguity often serves
a useful purpose, deterrence would be better served if rogue states contemplating the use of
[chemical or biological weapons] had more reason to fear a nuclear strike.” See Ochmanek
and Sokolsky. Employ Nuclear Deterrence. Vague U.S. Policy Dilutes Stance Against CBW
Threat. Defense News. Vol. 13, Jan. 12, 1998. p. 21.
43Gompert, David C. Rethinking the Role of Nuclear Weapons. National Defense University,
Strategic Forum No. 141, May 1998.
44See Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers. Letter to the President. January 26, 1999. See
President would authorize the use of U.S. nuclear weapons unless he was faced with
a nuclear attack on U.S. territory. Furthermore, many analysts have argued that the
United States does not need nuclear weapons to deter chemical or biological weapons
attacks because its conventional capabilities far exceed those of any other nation and
it could promise severe retaliation with those weapons alone.45
Some analysts who support the use of nuclear weapons to deter chemical and
biological weapons have disputed several points raised by those who argue against
this policy. They note, first, that U.S. conventional forces might not be sufficient to
deter chemical or biological attacks during a conflict because these forces might
already be fully engaged with the adversary. The threat to use chemical or biological
weapons would be an effort to blunt the magnitude of U.S. conventional capabilities,
and it would take the threat of further escalation to nuclear weapons to deter such an
attack.46 These analysts also dispute the contention that U.S. policy will influence
other nations to seek their own nuclear weapons. They note that “there is little
evidence U.S. nuclear weapons, or policies regarding their potential use, have
influenced the decisions of those countries that have pursued weapons of mass
destruction.” Instead, nations look to their own security environments and regional
positions to determine their military and force structure requirements.47
Targeting Strategy and Employment Policy. According to press reports
and Clinton Administration statements, PDD-60 did not alter the basic structure of
U.S. nuclear targeting and employment policy. The United States has retained the
options in its war plan (known as the SIOP, the Single Integrated Operational Plan)
to launch nuclear strikes against a range of military targets, nuclear forces, and civilian
leadership sites in Russia. Furthermore, according to Robert Bell, PDD-60 did not
alter the requirement that target planners offer the President various nuclear attack
options, from limited attacks involving small numbers of weapons to major attacks
involving thousands of warheads.48 The Clinton Administration continues to believe
that the flexibility offered by this range of options enhances deterrence by providing
also, Perkovich, George. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Nonproliferation
Project, Proliferation Brief, December 10, 1998.
45Darryl G. Kimball has written “today, with the United States overwhelming conventional
military superiority and ability to project its forces around the world, the only military purpose
of maintaining these nuclear stockpiles is to deter the use of nuclear weapons by another
country.” See Ending Nuclear Terror. Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Coalition to
Reduce Nuclear Dangers. National Debate. Winter 1998. See, also, Commentary: Post-Cold
War Demands New Ways to Deal with Warheads on Nuclear Arms: We can’t wait for
START II Treaty to do some good. Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1999. P. B-5.
46Gompert, David C. Rethinking the Role of Nuclear Weapons. National Defense University,
Strategic Forum No. 141, May 1998.
47Employ Nuclear Deterrence. Vague U.S. Policy Dilutes Stance Against CBW Threat
Defense News , Vol 13, Jan 12, 1998. P. 21.
48Smith, R. Jeffrey. Clinton Directive Changes Strategy on Nuclear Arms; Centering on
Deterrence, Officials Drop Terms for Long Atomic War. Washington Post, December 7,
the United States with more credible responses to a range of crises and attack
Clinton Administration statements and press reports also indicate that PDD-60
did not alter the U.S. policy of maintaining the capability to launch its nuclear
weapons after receiving indications that an attack on the United States was underway,
but before incoming warheads detonate.49 However, Administration officials have
stated that the United States does not rely on this ability to launch promptly as its only
option; it could also wait until detonations had occurred, then launch its retaliatory
strike at a later time. According to Robert Bell, “we direct our military forces to
continue to posture themselves in such a way as to not rely on launch on warning —
to be able to absorb a nuclear strike and still have enough force surviving to constitute
credible deterrence. Our policy is to confirm that we are under nuclear attack with
actual detonations before retaliating.”50
This element of U.S. nuclear weapons employment policy has caused some
confusion and misinterpretations. Some conservative analysts understood Robert
Bell’s statement to mean that PDD-60 had eliminated the option for the President to
launch nuclear weapons before an attack had reached U.S. soil and that the United
States would only retaliate after a significant portion of its forces, and possibly its
command and control structure, had been destroyed or seriously degraded. But this
interpretation was not correct. According to Robert Bell, PDD-60 did not change
the U.S. policy with respect to launch on warning, so some of the options available
in U.S. plans included weapons that would be available if the United States launched
its forces before any were destroyed, and some included only those weapons that
would survive if the United States absorbed a first strike from an adversary before
initiating its response. And the decision on whether to launch U.S. weapons promptly
or to wait for detonations on U.S. soil would be left to the national command
authority at the time of the crisis.
Many other analysts criticized PDD-60 precisely because it did not eliminate
options for the United States to launch its nuclear weapons on warning of an attack,
before detonations actually occur. Some argue that the United States does not need
to maintain these options because it has a sufficient number of warheads on ballistic
missile submarines that could survive and retaliate after an initial attack.51 Others
have argued that the continued high level of nuclear readiness threatens to lead to the
use of nuclear weapons by technical failure, human error, or unauthorized launch.52
Furthermore, some believe that such a posture is highly destabilizing because it leads
49Smith, R. Jeffrey. Clinton Directive Changes Strategy on Nuclear Arms; Centering on
Deterrence, Officials Drop Terms for Long Atomic War. Washington Post, December 7,
50Cerniello, Craig. Clinton Issues New Guidelines on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Doctrine. Arms
Control Today. November/December 1997.
51Commentary: Post-Cold War Demands New Ways to Deal with Warheads on Nuclear
Arms: We can’t wait for START II Treaty to do some good. Los Angeles Times, January 11,
52Kimball, Daryl G. Ending Nuclear Terror. National Debate, Winter 1998.
both the United States and Russia to maintain their nuclear weapons on very high
states of alert. But, they argue, with growing weaknesses in Russia’s early warning
network of satellites and sensors, these high states of alert could lead to false
warnings of attack and high risks of inadvertent nuclear strikes. Hence, if both
nations postured their forces so that they could not be launched promptly on warning
of an attack, then the risk of nuclear war “by accident” would diminish sharply.
Force Structure. As was noted above, the United States is currently reducing
the number of warheads deployed on its strategic offensive nuclear forces to comply
with the 1991 START I Treaty. It has also identified the numbers and types of
delivery vehicles it would deploy under the 1993 START II Treaty. However,
because that Treaty has not yet entered into force, Congress has mandated that the
Administration retain forces at START I levels. In recent DOD Authorization Bills,
it has precluded the use of DOD funds to begin the dismantlement of weapons
systems that would bring the United States below START I force levels. This means
that DOD cannot begin to dismantle the 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs or 4 Trident
submarines that would be removed from the fleet when the United States moves from
START I to START II force levels.
For several years, the Clinton Administration did not object to this legislation.
Many in Congress and the Pentagon agreed that, by keeping its forces at START I
levels, the United States could provide the Russian parliament with an incentive to
approve START II. Most experts agree that Russia cannot afford to maintain its
forces even at START I levels, and that it will have fewer than 2,000 deployed
warheads in the coming years, regardless of arms control limits. Many officials in
both the United States and Russia have noted that Russia can only retain parity with
the United States if the United States also reduces its forces. Hence, because U.S.
law mandates that the United States cannot reduce its forces until START II enters
into force, many believed it would provide the Duma with an incentive to approve
START II (and move to deeper reductions in a prospective START III Treaty).
The Administration did, however, request that Congress eliminate this mandate
in the FY2000 Defense Authorization Bill because of budgetary implications. In
testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Assistant Secretary of
Defense Edward Warner noted that DOD had added $51 million to its budget in
FY2000 to continue Peacekeeper operations and to protect the option of refueling the
extra 4 Trident submarines and fitting them with the new Trident II missiles. DOD
would need an additional $100 million per year for the next 3 years, and $170 million
per year after 2003, to maintain and operate the Peacekeeper missiles. Furthermore,
DOD would need an additional $5-6 billion, between fiscal years 2000 and 2005, to
refuel the 4 extra Trident submarines, to refit them so that they could carry the newer
Trident II missiles, and to purchase additional missiles for these 4 submarines.53
Consequently, the Administration asked Congress to eliminate the language requiring
the United States to maintain 18 Trident submarines. Because all 14 remaining
submarines would carry the new Trident II missiles, DOD officials argue that the
53Statement of the Honorable Edward L. Warner, III. Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction, before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic
Forces. April 14, 1999.
smaller fleet would be a more modern and capable force. Furthermore, Secretary of
Defense Cohen has stated that, even with fewer Trident submarines, the United States
could still deploy close to the 6,000 warheads permitted under START I.54
Several members of Congress supported the Administration’s effort to eliminate
the congressional mandate on strategic nuclear weapons. For example, Senator Carl
Levin noted that “We should not spend the billion plus dollars a year that will be55
needed to maintain START I levels unless there is a military need to do so.”
Senator Robert Smith, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, also
noted that there might be more “affordable ways to maintain a modern and robust
strategic triad.” However, he stated that he “firmly believes we should not unilaterally56
implement START II.” Senator Robert Kerrey sponsored an amendment to the
FY2000 Defense Authorization Bill that would have eliminated any language
mandating a specific nuclear weapons force structure, but it failed to pass. Instead,
the Senate approved language that would permit the United States to reduce its
Trident fleet from 18 to 14 submarines. The House approved more restrictive
language, but accepted a compromise similar to the Senate language in the
Conference Report on the FY2000 Defense Authorization Bill.
The Clinton Administration sought, again, to have Congress remove the
restrictive language from the FY2001 Defense Authorization Bill. Congress, again,
refused to lift the restrictions. The Senate, in its version of the bill, did provide that
the next President could reduce U.S. forces below START I levels after conducting
a new Nuclear Posture Review to determine how many weapons the United States
needed in its arsenal. The Conference Committee, however, removed this provision
from the final legislation. Congress is likely to address this provision again in the
FY2001 Defense Authorization bill. Because President Bush has stated that he would
like to reduce U.S. nuclear forces to the lowest levels possible without formal arms
control agreements and because the Administration is unlikely to press for START
II to enter into force, many expect that the House and Senate will agree to remove the
Some conservative analysts believe that the United States should maintain all 18
Trident submarines for the indefinite future because these are the most survivable and
flexible element of the U.S. triad.57 Because the older Trident I missiles are nearing
54U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services. Hearing on Defense Budget Issues. Testimony
of Secretary of Defense William Cohen. February 3, 1999.
55U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services. Hearing on Defense Budget Issues. February
56U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. Hearing on Strategic
Offensive Forces. April 14, 1999.
57Frank Gaffney has called the Trident submarines “the last vestige of a robust nuclear
deterrent posture.” He stated that “we should modernize and keep them on station as long as
possible. The last thing I would cut is these boats that represent a credible, survivable force
against people who may not be deterred.” See, Pincus Walter. Questions Raised on Trident
Subs. Cost and Size of Strategic Nuclear Deterrent are Issues. Washington Post, January 3,
the end of their service lives, this force structure would require additional funding to
modify 8, rather than 4, submarines so that all could carry the newer Trident II
missile. Some liberal analysts, however, believe that Congress should not mandate any
particular force level and that the United States should reduce its Trident fleet to 14
or fewer submarines in the near future. They argue that the United States can
maintain deterrence with just a few submarines on station and that current plans for
sea-based warheads are excessive in the post-Cold War era.58
Forces into the Future. According to press reports, PDD-60 concluded that,
even as the United States reduces its forces to START III levels of 2,000-2,500
warheads, it will maintain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. The
Clinton Administration believed that such a force mix would enhance deterrence by
complicating an adversary’s attack and defense planning, and that such a mix can help
hedge against system failures in other “legs” of the triad.
The Clinton Administration also pledged to address perceived problems with the
personnel and infrastructure needed to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear
arsenal. In late 1998, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Deterrence
reportedly urged the Clinton Administration “to improve U.S. nuclear forces for
decades to come in face of Russia’s large arsenal and a growing Chinese strategic
force.” The panel outlined concerns about the numbers of personnel with nuclear
weapons expertise who were leaving government and the military, the closure of
production facilities, a reduction in nuclear-related military exercises, and the absence
of new weapons production. Furthermore, it noted that the Department of Defense
had no long-term planning mechanism or management plan for how it would maintain
those forces into the future.59 Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre reportedly
responded to this report by setting up the Nuclear Mission Management Plan, which
would outline requirements for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile; the necessary
contractor industrial base and support infrastructure; and the critical skills and training
needed by personnel responsible for nuclear weapons policy and operations. The plan
will also outline the programs that the services and the defense agencies will use to
sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces. In testimony before the Senate
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Admiral Richard Mies, the Commander in Chief
of the Strategic Command (STRATCOM), noted that DOD was working to maintain
an infrastructure that could support U.S. strategic nuclear forces into the future and
to ensure that the services had the personnel with the training, support, and
commitment needed to meet the unique standards of performance required by nuclear
58Retired Admiral Eugene Carroll characterized the mandate for 18 submarines as totally
irrational. He has stated that 5 submarines on permanent patrol could “eradicate the world.”
Ibid. P. 22.
59Gertz, Bill. Pentagon: Nuclear Upgrade Needed for Deterrence. Washington Times,
December 4, 1998. p. 1.
60This could prove to be a challenge as a smaller force structure eliminates personnel positions
Some analysts support plans to maintain the U.S. nuclear triad, noting that the
triad can continue to offer a hedge against technical problems, to offer a variety of
basing modes to complicate attack, and to allow the United States to tailor its
deterrent threats to meet the circumstances. Furthermore, they believe that the triad
provides the United States with the flexibility needed to respond to changing postures
of nuclear adversaries and to a variety of threats from regional adversaries. However,
some have been critical of DOD’s efforts to sustain and modernize that force. They
have noted that there is little senior-level involvement in DOD in planning for nuclear
forces and no center of expertise for nuclear policy issues.61 They have argued for
more funding and planning so that the United States will have the people and
resources it needs to maintain its nuclear arsenal for the foreseeable future.
Some analysts, however, believe that the Clinton Administration’s insistence on
maintaining a triad of delivery systems demonstrated an attachment to “Cold War”
thinking and planning. They note that the requirement for such diverse systems
derives from the U.S. plans to attack a wide range of targets in Russia if a conflict
occurred. Yet, they believe that this method of planning for deterrence is both
excessive and unnecessary given current political and economic conditions in Russia.
They note that many of the military and industrial facilities that the United States
would attack are already close to collapse, and that a far smaller nuclear force could
undermine the already shaky foundation of Russia’s economy. Furthermore, they
contend that if the United States insists on maintaining a large and diverse force of
nuclear weapons, Russia will do the same, which only adds to the threat that the
United States might face. In addition, many liberal analysts believe that this “old”
style of thinking about nuclear weapons exists because many of the same analysts and
experts who planned for the use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War remain in
positions of authority in DOD now. They believe that U.S. nuclear policy will not
change until DOD loses more of this “old” expertise.
Ballistic Missile Defenses
As noted above, the Clinton Administration outlined its strategy for the
development and deployment of national missile defenses (NMD) in January 1999, but
decided in September 2000 to delay a decision on deployment until the next
Administration. In January 1999, the Administration emphasized that it had
restructured the NMD program for a possible deployment date of 2005, rather than
2003; this has now slipped until 2006 or 2007. Secretary Cohen acknowledged that
the threat from long-range ballistic missiles in rogue nations appeared to be
developing more quickly than the Administration had anticipated, but he also stated
that this would not be the only factor in the Administration’s decision on whether to
deploy an NMD system. Other factors include the status of the technology that would
be used in the NMD system, the expected costs of the system, and the status of arms
so that new members of the service look to careers in other areas of the U.S. military. See
the testimony of Admiral Richard Mies, in U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services,
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. Hearing on Strategic Nuclear Forces. April 14, 1999.
61U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
control negotiations with Russia that would be needed to modify the 1972 ABM
The Clinton Administration acknowledged that the United States and Russia
would have to amend the ABM Treaty to permit the deployment of an effective U.S.
NMD system. The United States reportedly planned to seek amendments to the ABM
Treaty in two phases. In the first phase, the United States would ask Russia to amend
the Treaty’s ban on nationwide defenses and to alter the Treaty’s limit of one site
located around an ICBM field or the nation’s capital. These changes are designed to
permit the United States to deploy a single ABM site in Alaska to protect the entire
nation from missile launches originating in North Korea, China, or other rogue
nations. In the second phase, the United States would seek Russia’s agreement to
deploy additional sites and more than 200 interceptor missiles. It would also seek
changes to the Treaty’s restrictions on sensors and space-based ABM components,
along with possible changes in the ban on sea-based ABM components.62 Russia,
however, has been unwilling to discuss any changes to the ABM Treaty and
apparently believed that it could dissuade the Clinton Administration if it did not agree
to amend the Treaty.
Many in Congress disagreed with the Clinton Administration’s NMD strategy.
Some argued that the threat from uncertainties in Russia and missiles in rogue nations
exists now. Some also argued that the United States may have too little warning of
new threats to respond with the deployment of a missile defense system. And some
argued that the Clinton Administration has placed the ABM Treaty above U.S.
national security, maintaining it at all costs in spite of the demise of the Soviet Union.
Consequently, many have been particularly critical of the Administration’s NMD
deployment schedule, believing a system could and should be fielded much sooner
than 2005. In June 1999, Congress passed legislation (H.R. 4) that states it is the
policy of the United States to deploy national missile defenses as soon as the
technology is ready. The Clinton Administration and Democrats in Congress dropped
their opposition to this bill after the Senate added amendments stating that it is U.S.
policy to continue to negotiate with Russia on reductions in offensive nuclear
weapons and that NMD programs remained subject to annual authorization and
appropriations for funding. The Clinton Administration interpreted these
amendments to mean that Congress supports negotiations with Russia on offensive
force reductions to the extent that it would not want NMD deployment plans to
interfere with these reductions and that the United States has not made a final decision
on NMD deployment because Congress must still approve the funds for this effort on
an annual basis.
Many conservative analysts agree with those in Congress, and those in the new
Bush Administration, who believe that the United States should move to NMD
deployment quickly, even if it means abandoning the ABM Treaty or upsetting
offensive force negotiations with Russia. They argue that the United States may not
be able to rely on nuclear deterrence to dissuade some adversaries from attacking the
United States with long-range ballistic missiles and that the United States should place
62Graham, Bradley. U.S. to go Slowly on Treaty; Quick ABM Overhaul Rejected by Clinton.
Washington Post. September 8, 1999. p. A13.
more emphasis on “deterrence by denial through defense.”63 They argue that some
nations may see missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction as an “asymmetrical
threat” to the United States and that they might try to employ blackmail or threats to
convince the United States to stand aside during a regional conflict. If it could defend
against long-range missile attacks, the United States could stand up to these threats.
Others argue that deterrence, even with Russia, is unproven and could fail because
nations may not understand that the United States would retaliate with overwhelming
force, or nuclear weapons, if they attacked U.S. territory with ballistic missiles.
Therefore, the United States should be prepared to deal with adversaries who do not
recognize or do not fear the potential of a retaliatory strike from the United States.
Some Members of Congress and liberal analysts argue that the United States
does not need a national missile defense to address the threat of missile attack from
rogue nations. Some believe that the United States will not be able to develop and
deploy a cost-effective NMD because of daunting technical challenges and certain
high costs that would be associated with such a complex system. Others argue that
rogue nations with weapons of mass destruction could attack the United States with
lower cost, and less obvious means than ballistic missiles, or that they could deploy
countermeasures or penetration aids to defeat U.S. missile defenses. These analysts
note that a BMD system would do nothing to stop cargo ships or other
unconventional or simpler means of delivery. Furthermore, some argue that efforts
to amend the ABM Treaty with Russia could further erode support in Russia for the
START II Treaty and could provide Russia with an incentive to build up its offensive
Those who believe that the United States should not deploy NMD in the near
future often choose to address emerging ballistic missile threats with a combination
of diplomatic, arms control, and nonproliferation tools. They believe that cooperative
methods, those that combine economic, political, and military incentives, could help
persuade nations not to pursue missile technologies or sell them to countries of
concern. And they argue that a strong international nonproliferation regime could64
bring more pressure to bear on rogue nations than a U.S. NMD. And if cooperative
methods are less than successful, many note that the United States could still deter
missile attacks from rogue nations with its overwhelming military superiority in
nuclear and conventional forces. They believe that no nation, even one led by an
unpredictable leader with less-than-rational objectives, would risk attacking the
United States if it believed that its own survival would be threatened in response.
63U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
Requirements. p. 2.4.
64Spurgeon Keeney of the Arms Control Association has argued that “the best defense against
future missile threats by rogue states is not a crash effort to deploy expensive, unproven
defenses, but rather aggressive pursuit of measures to reduce the possibility that such threats
will ever materialize. Such measures include improved controls on international trade...
prompt U.S ratification of the CTBT to secure U.S. leadership in strengthening the nuclear
nonproliferation regime, etc.” See Keeney Spurgeon, The New Missile “Threat” Gap. Arms
Control Today, June/July 1998.
The Bush Administration has pursued an extensive review of U.S. missile
defense policies and programs. As is noted above, the President emphasized his
commitment to the deployment of missile defenses in a speech on May 1, 2001. The
President has not, however, outlined a specific architecture for a missile defense
system nor its strategy for modifying or abandoning the ABM Treaty. In addition, the
Administration is consulting with U.S. allies, and plans to hold discussions (although
not necessarily formal negotiations) with Russia, as it develops its missile defense
Strategic Offensive Force Reductions. In March 1997, Presidents
Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that after the START II Treaty entered into force, the two
sides would pursue further reductions in a START III Treaty. They agreed that this
new agreement would reduce each side’s strategic offensive forces to 2,000-2,500
warheads on deployed delivery vehicles. Officials in Russia have since suggested that
the parties explore even deeper reductions to 1,500 warheads. The Presidents also
agreed that START III should contain measures to promote the irreversibility of the
weapons elimination process, including transparency measures and the destruction of
strategic nuclear warheads removed from delivery vehicles. They also agreed that
they would explore possible measures for long-range, nuclear-armed, sea-launched65
cruise missiles and other tactical nuclear weapons.
Some analysts have grown skeptical about the value of continuing negotiations
with Russia to reduce strategic offensive nuclear forces. They note that Russia will
reduce its forces for budgetary reasons, regardless of arms control limits, and,
therefore, that the United States does not have to compromise its own force structure
to achieve these reductions. They do not see much benefit for the United States in
negotiating offensive force reductions, particularly if Russia links these reductions
with continued U.S. compliance with the ABM Treaty. Instead, they believe that the
United States should go its own way on missile defenses and offensive force levels.
President Bush has endorsed this approach to adjusting the U.S. nuclear force
Others have argued that, if the United States and Russia continue negotiations
on force reductions, they should change the focus from limits on strategic offensive
forces to measures addressing total nuclear posture, which would include theater
forces and nuclear infrastructure. They note that Russia’s strategic forces are aging
and are likely to decline with or without negotiated limits. But they maintain that
Russia still has thousands of non-strategic nuclear weapons, far more than the United
65Russia has long sought restrictions on U.S. sea-launched cruise missiles because it fears that
these could threaten targets in Russia if the United States returned them to deployment on
attack submarines. The United States would like further restrictions on Russian tactical
nuclear weapons because these may pose a proliferation risk and because Russia possesses
a greater number of these weapons than does the United States. Russia would like restrictions
on U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to ensure that they are not deployed on the territory of new
States, and a more robust nuclear weapons production complex and infrastructure.66
Furthermore, they argue that the United States should press for measures that will
increase transparency and ensure the irreversibility of nuclear weapons reductions.
In the long run, they believe, these types of measures will do more to increase U.S.
security than would further negotiated reductions in strategic offensive forces.
Many analysts in the arms control community agree that the United States and
Russia should negotiate measures that would improve transparency and the
irreversibility of the arms reduction process. But they argue that these measures
should go along with much deeper reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic offensive
forces. They note that all of these measures would signal a continuing improvement
in U.S. and Russian relations and a growing realization by both parties that they have
little to gain by retaining Cold War era nuclear postures. Many of these object to the
Administration’s approach because they believe it is moving too slowly. By waiting
for Russia to ratify START II, which the Duma might never do, the United States
could lose an opportunity to move with Russia to START III or lower levels of
strategic offensive forces. Although budget pressures might force Russia in that
direction anyway, some worry that Russia could muster the resources to retain or
replace a greater number of nuclear weapons if it felt threatened by the United States.
In November 1998, Senator Robert Kerrey called for immediate unilateral
reductions in U.S. strategic nuclear forces to around 2,000-2,500 warheads, the level
projected under a START III Treaty. He said that the United States spends $25
billion on strategic nuclear forces each year, and that this was diverting money away
from real and imminent threats. Furthermore, he argued that the United States was
provoking Russia to maintain an arsenal larger than it could control, which made
Russia’s nuclear forces “an accident waiting to happen.”67 A coalition of arms control
analysts made a similar recommendation in a report released in February 1999. The
members of the Committee on Nuclear Policy acknowledged that arms control treaties
have served U.S. national interests in the past, but they noted that the pace of the
arms control process has not kept up with the expansion of nuclear dangers in Russia.
These include dangers caused by weaknesses in Russia’s early warning and command
and control systems and dangers caused by political and economic instability in
Russia. Therefore, they called on the United States and Russia to supplement treaties
with parallel, reciprocal and verifiable steps to reduce these dangers. They argued
that both sides should declare their intentions to reduce their strategic offensive forces
to 1,000 deployed warheads within a decade and to offer “cradle to grave
transparency” to monitor the elimination of excess warheads. They noted that Russia
had rejected this level of transparency in the past, but they argued that it would be
more likely to accept such measures if the United States was willing to reduce its
forces to the low levels that Russia was heading to anyway.68
66U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
Requirements. p. 2.31.
67Pincus, Walter. Kerrey: U.S. Should Cut Nuclear Arms Unilaterally. Washington Post.
November 17, 1998. p. 13.
68Jump-START. Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers.
Several other reports and studies completed during the past few years have
suggested that the United States and Russia move beyond the START process and
reduce their forces to around 1,000 warheads initially, and as few as 200-30069
warheads eventually. They argue that these reductions would foster continuing
improvements in the U.S.-Russian relationship and help reduce the risks of inadvertent
use of nuclear weapons inherent in the retention of large stockpiles and large numbers
of deployed systems.
Press reports in late 1998 indicated that the Clinton Administration did consider
unilateral reductions in U.S. strategic nuclear forces to advance the arms control
process and to encourage Russia to reduce its strategic nuclear forces. However,
these reductions would not have been as deep as the preceding studies have suggested
and most reports acknowledged that budget pressures were the United States’
primary rationale for considering them.70 One press report indicated that the
Administration had considered eliminating 4 Trident submarines, 50 Peacekeeper71
ICBMs, and 20 Minuteman ICBMs. However, in February 1999, when the
Administration submitted its FY2000 budget to Congress, it simply requested that
Congress remove the language in previous authorization bills that required the
retention of 18 Trident submarines. As was noted above, Congress did alter this
language in the FY2000 Defense Authorization Bill.
Many in the Clinton Administration believed that the United States should not
begin to make deep reductions without having START II in place because Russia
would have a greater incentive to ratify START II if it recognized this as the only way
to bring about significant reductions in U.S. forces. Admiral Richard Mies, the
Commander-in-Chief of STRATCOM, has also argued that the United States should
exercise “considerable caution” when “reducing our strategic forces below the
negotiated START I force levels until it is evident that Russia is fully committed to
further arms control reductions. Because the United States is not developing new
warheads and delivery systems, we must not be hasty in taking irreversible steps to
reduce our capability and flexibility.”72
Committee on Nuclear Policy. February 1999. p. 11.
69See, for example, National Academy of Sciences. The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons
Policy. Washington, D.C. 1997. See also, Goodby, James E. and Harold Feiveson. Ending
the Threat of Nuclear Attack. Henry L. Stimson Center, Policy Brief V. 1, No. 8. June 27,
1997; and An Evolving U.S. Nuclear Posture. The Second Report of the Steering Committee
Project on Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Henry L. Stimson Center,
Washington D.C. 1995.
70See, for example, Steven Lee Myers. Pentagon Ready to Shrink Arsenal of Nuclear Bombs.
New York Times, November 23, 1998. p. 1.
71Sloyan, Patrick J. Clinton Considering Unilateral Arms Cuts. Long Island Newsday.
December 6, 1998. p. 27.
72Mies Calls for Caution on Proposals to Unilaterally Cut Strategic Forces. Inside the
Pentagon. Vol. 15, June 10, 1999. p. 1.
Strategic Nuclear Force Posture. In recent years, many analysts in the
arms control community have argued that the United States and Russia should change
the focus of arms control efforts from reducing the numbers of strategic nuclear
weapons to altering the postures of those weapons to reduce the dangers of an
inadvertent nuclear attack. Support for this change in focus derives, in part, from the
fact that efforts in past years to press for deep cuts in nuclear weapons did not alter
Administration policy, but also from growing concerns about the safety and security
of nuclear weapons in Russia.73 According to one analyst, the two sides should “make
operational safety, as opposed to deterrence of deliberate attack, the primary
consideration” for their cooperative threat reduction efforts.74
Those who support these types of measures argue that it is a mistake for both
nations to maintain large portions of their forces on high levels of alert (a situation
they refer to as “hair-trigger alert”). They note that these alert postures remain in
place, in spite of the end of the Cold War and the significantly lower likelihood of a
conflict between the two nations, and in an environment where Russia may be unable
to receive clear, unambiguous, and accurate information about the presence or
absence of an attack on its territory. Hence, this posture not only increases the
likelihood of an inadvertent nuclear conflict, which could result if Russia launched its
nuclear forces after misinterpreting data about a possible U.S. launch, but it also
perpetuates the high levels of suspicion and mistrust that characterized the U.S.-
Soviet nuclear stand-off during the Cold War.75 Several analysts have offered
proposals to remedy this situation.
Admiral Stansfield Turner has argued that the formal treaty process is too slow
to respond to the rapidly changing economic, political, and security situation in Russia
and that the United States and Russia should reduce their deployed forces significantly
and quickly to address concerns about nuclear proliferation. Therefore, he has
proposed that the United States remove some number of warheads from its deployed
strategic ballistic missiles and place them in storage about 200 miles away from the
deployment areas, an arrangement he refers to as “strategic escrow.” He argues that
this would add significantly to the amount of time it would take for the United States
to load and launch its missiles. He also suggests that the United States invite Russian
observers to monitor the storage sites. Finally, he suggests that the United States
invite Russia to take reciprocal steps with its strategic offensive nuclear forces.
Because both nations would begin their escrow with only a portion of their deployed
warheads, both could remain confident in their deterrent forces. And, over time, as
confidence and cooperation improved, both could increase the proportion of warheads
in escrow and reduce the number of deployed weapons remaining on alert. He argues
that these steps would not only indicate to the international community that the
73Fisher, Cathleen S. Reformation and Resistance: Nongovernmental Organizations and the
Future of Nuclear Weapons. The Henry L. Stimson Center, Report no. 29, May 1999. p. 50.
74Blair, Bruce. Global Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces. Brookings Institution, Washington,
D.C. 1995. p. 9.
75According to the Committee on Nuclear Policy, “No other single measure would more
clearly signal the end of mutual suspicion carried over from the Cold War than taking these
weapons off quick launch status.” See Jump-START. Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-
Cold War Nuclear Dangers. February 1999. p. 12.
United States and Russia are “downgrading nuclear weapons” in their defense
policies, but that they would also reduce the dangers from Russian nuclear forces.76
Many other analysts have endorsed a concept that has become known as “de-
alerting” for nuclear warheads. Some have outlined a range of specific alternatives
— from physical obstructions that would block the exit of missiles from their silos,
to technical changes in computer software that would make it difficult for either
nation to launch its weapons promptly, to the actual removal of warheads from
ballistic missiles — that would increase the amount of time needed to launch nuclear
weapons after a nation had received warning of an attack.77 Proponents, including
Bruce Blair, have stated that these types of measures could enhance stability and
reduce the risk of miscalculations if they are verifiable, so that each side can be
confident that the other has maintained its forces on lower levels of alert, and if they
would take a significant amount of time to reverse, so that both sides would have time
to respond if the other side began to re-alert its forces. Furthermore, they have
sought to devise measures that would not jeopardize the survivability of a core force
of nuclear weapons that could be reconstituted to deter attacks in the event of a crisis.
Proponents also argue that, if the United States were to remove its forces from
their high levels of alert, then Russia would no longer fear a disarming first strike from
U.S. forces because such an attack would not be possible without significant warning
time. As a result, Russia would no longer need to maintain its forces on high levels
of alert so that it could launch promptly if it did detect evidence of an attack. And,
if Russia reduced the alert rates for its forces, the risk that it would respond in haste
to ambiguous evidence of a possible nuclear attack would also decline. Hence, if the
United States started the de-alerting process, it could enhance safety and reduce the
likelihood that gaps in Russia’s early warning networks or flaws in its command and78
control systems and procedures would lead to an inadvertent nuclear launch.
Officials in the Clinton Administration rejected many of these de-alerting
proposals. First, they noted that there is no guarantee that Russia would reciprocate
if the United States reduced the alert rates for its forces, so the measures might not
redress any weaknesses in Russia’s early warning network and command and control
system. Furthermore, they argued that these types of step could undermine, rather
than enhance, stability. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee,
Assistant Secretary of Defense Warner noted that many options for de-alerting, such
as changes in computer software or internal locks in missile silos, are not verifiable,
76Commentary: Post-Cold War Demands New Ways to Deal with Warheads on Nuclear
Arms: We can’t wait for START II Treaty to do some good. Los Angeles Times, January 11,
77For more detailed descriptions of “de-alerting,” see Bruce Blair. Global Zero Alert for
Nuclear Forces. Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. 1995; National Academy of
Sciences. The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy. Washington, D.C., 1997. pp. 62-63;
Sam Nunn and Bruce Blair. From Nuclear Deterrence to Mutual Safety. Washington Post.
June 22, 1997. p. C1; and Bruce G. Blair, Harold A. Feiveson, and Frank N. von Hippel.
Taking Nuclear Weapons off Hair-Trigger Alert. Scientific American. November 1997.
78See, for example, Bruce Blair. Global Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces. Brookings
Institution, Washington, D.C. 1995. p. 15.
which is widely accepted as an essential requirement for increased strategic stability.
He went on to state that those measures that could be verified, such as the removal
of warheads from missiles, could also be highly destabilizing in a crisis because steps
that either nation took to re-alert its forces could very easily set off a dangerous chain
of events.79 Admiral Mies, the Commander in Chief of STRATCOM, has also noted
that reducing the alert status of our forces could diminish the credibility and the
survivability of our deterrent forces and, therefore, jeopardize existing stability against80
a preemptive first strike. This would be particularly true if the United States were
to remove components that ballistic missile submarines would need to launch their
missiles. It would be very difficult to restore these components to submarines at sea
during a crisis or conflict without having them return to port, but this return would
make them vulnerable to attack.
Some analysts have also criticized proposals to reduce the alert rates for strategic
nuclear forces.81 First, they note that U.S. alert rates do not create a “hair-trigger”
which evokes an image of weapons that would launch automatically in response to
warning of an incoming attack. Instead, the alert rates provide the President with the
option of launching promptly, along with the option of waiting for more information
before making a decision. In addition, some have argued that warheads removed
from missiles and stored in central storage areas might actually be so vulnerable and
attractive as targets, that they would invite attacks by other nations seeking to
undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Others have noted that these proposals could
actually raise Russian suspicions that the United States was seeking to disarm the
Russian deterrent by insisting that Russia remove its forces from alert and make them
more vulnerable to a surprise attack.82
Many analysts and officials in the Clinton Administration agreed, however, that
weaknesses in Russia’s early warning and command and control networks did increase
the risk that Russia might launch its weapons in response to ambiguous or inaccurate
information about an incoming attack. Some analysts suggested that the United
States deploy ballistic missile defenses to protect itself against such a contingency.
Many others have suggested that the United States address the problem directly, by
sharing ballistic missile early warning data with the Russians. During their September
1998 summit, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the United States and Russia
should explore the possibility of establishing a joint early warning center to share data
about ballistic missile launches worldwide. The two sides have agreed to establish
79Statement of the Honorable Edward L. Warner, III. Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction, before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic
Forces. April 14, 1999.
80Mies Calls for Caution on Proposals to Unilaterally Cut Strategic Forces. Inside the
Pentagon. Vol. 15, June 10, 1999. p. 1.
81See, for example, the Statement by Dr. Kathleen C. Bailey, before the U.S. Senate Armed
Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. March 31, 1998.
82Alexei Arbatov, a member of the Russian parliament and arms control expert, has noted that
de-alerting proposals would be unverifiable and could be viewed with suspicion in Russia.
See Jump-START. Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers.
Committee on Nuclear Policy. February 1999. p. 30.
such a center outside of Moscow, and are in the process of completing agreements
on the details.
Analysts from across the political spectrum appear to agree that the United
States can assist Russia with its early warning gaps by sharing data collected by U.S.
early warning satellites. Some worry that this effort could reveal sensitive information
about the capabilities of U.S. systems, but most acknowledge that the two sides could
probably devise a system that would provide useful data without compromising U.S.
capabilities. Some analysts have proposed that the United States share more than data
with Russia. They have suggested that the United States could help Russia rebuild
its early warning network by providing funds to help Russia build and launch more83
satellites, or even by sharing satellite technology directly with Russia. Some have
criticized these proposals because they believe that the United States should not make
it easier for Russia to manage and operate its nuclear weapons and that Russia should
invest its own funds in its early warning systems. Nevertheless, there appears to be
a growing consensus, both among officials in the Clinton Administration and others,
that the United States and Russia can cooperate to reduce the risks created by
weaknesses in Russia’s early warning system.
The United States has implemented some changes in its nuclear force posture
and force structure since the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, it has retained many
elements that have been a part of U.S. nuclear strategy for nearly 30 years. Some
analysts argue that this continuity is necessary, even though the Soviet Union no
longer exists, because the United States is likely to face new threats from adversaries
armed with weapons of mass destruction. Others, however, believe that the United
States should implement more far-reaching changes in its nuclear posture in response
to the changing international security environment. They contend that the United
States should focus more on reducing nuclear dangers in Russia than on nuclear
deterrence of emerging threats in other nations.
Congress has not addressed nuclear strategy and force posture in a
comprehensive manner in many years. But it reviews many aspects of U.S. nuclear
policy when it approves budgets for force structure and modernization programs,
when it debates the merits of arms control agreements and potential arms control
measures, and when it addresses the role that ballistic missile defenses may play in
protecting the United States against emerging threats from nations armed with
weapons of mass destruction. These issues are likely to remain on the congressional
agenda for many years. At the same time, analysts from across the political spectrum
may continue to press for change or continuity in U.S. nuclear posture.
Consequently, although these issues rarely attract wide-spread attention or
83The Congressional Budget Office outlined some of these alternatives in its September 1998
letter to Senator Tom Daschle. It recently reviewed the pros and cons of another proposal for
the United States to provide the funds for Russia to launch several early warning satellites.
See U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Letter to the Honorable Tom Daschle, August 24,
impassioned debate, they are likely to remain on the congressional agenda for the