I don’t know if admitting this will make me look bad, but I suspect I’m not alone when I say: I knew close to nothing about nuclear weapons when I arrived at the Korbel School in 2011. Maybe that was a function of not hearing much about them as a student of international affairs in undergrad and as a Hill staffer with a foreign policy portfolio. When nukes came up, it was only in relation to Iran and The Bomb – admittedly fascinating, but relating more to big P politics than to nuts and bolts policy. For my generation, the Cold War ended and nukes went away. Except that they didn’t. Today, there are around 4,650 warheads in the U.S. stockpile. By 2018, under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), both U.S. and Russia are required to reduce their numbers of strategic nuclear weapons to about 1,550 each – still enough to annihilate each other, and the globe, many times over.
You are probably thinking one of two things: 1) I don’t know anything about this and it doesn’t affect me or 2) No less than POTUS said in Prague that the United States was going to take immediate steps to work toward a “world free of nuclear weapons”. The President’s vision was turned into concrete policy in his 2010 nuclear posture review (NPR), which had this to say:
By working to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs and moving step-by-step toward eliminating them, we can reverse the growing expectation that we are destined to live in a world with more nuclear-armed states, and decrease incentives for additional countries to hedge against an uncertain future by pursuing nuclear options of their own (p. vi.)
We’ll get back to this. Continue reading