Analysis & Opinions - Quincy Institute For Responsible Statecraft

A US Nuclear Weapons Surge in 2021 Would Have No Strategic Value

| Oct. 02, 2020

This week, a number of insiders confirmed to Politico the Trump administration’s interest in surging the number of deployed American nuclear weapons if it does not renew New START next February.

According to the officials, the White House requested the Pentagon to report on how quickly it would be able to take nuclear warheads from the inactive stockpile and redeploy them into active service with its missiles and bombers, thereby exceeding the warhead limit (1,550) currently imposed under the treaty. 

New START, which has a built-in option for both countries to extend the treaty for six years, has proven to be a stabilizing foundation for both Washington and Moscow, despite recent nuclear tensions. Under its terms, both countries’ strategic forces have been reliably stable over the last decade, and thanks to robust inspection mechanisms and procedures, transparency has been at an all-time high for both sides. 

Vladimir Putin has long been on the record as willing to sign New START’s extension without negotiation, a veritable “layup” for a Trump administration in need of a foreign policy success. But the White House has sent decidedly mixed signals about what it expects before signing the renewal, and its reported interest in enacting a surge next year seems to confirm that it is now looking beyond the treaty entirely. Ostensibly meant to add pressure on Russia to negotiate, this week’s news is seen as extremely unlikely to move the needle for Moscow.

As perplexing as the White House’s approach to the treaty has been, it is still important to consider how a nuclear surge in 2021 might affect American capabilities and the strategic balance. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that the proposed “up-loading” of the existing nuclear force will not make a meaningful difference in achieving any of Washington’s stated objectives. Worse, such a move would surely come at a high cost to bilateral trust, international reputation, and cause further damage to an already-crippled global nonproliferation regime.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Facini, Andrew.“A US Nuclear Weapons Surge in 2021 Would Have No Strategic Value.” Quincy Institute For Responsible Statecraft, October 2, 2020.