Another former commander of U.S. nuclear forces, retired General James Cartwright, has joined the list of prominent former nuclear warriors calling for sharp cuts in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal (Thom Shanker, “Former Commander of U.S. Nuclear Forces Calls for Large Cut in Warheads,” New York Times, 15 May 2012):
General Cartwright said that the United States’ nuclear deterrence could be guaranteed with a total arsenal of 900 warheads, and with only half of them deployed at any one time. Even those in the field would be taken off hair triggers, requiring 24 to 72 hours for launching, to reduce the chance of accidental war. …
“The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war,” General Cartwright said in an interview. “There is the baggage of significant numbers in reserve. There is the baggage of a nuclear stockpile beyond our needs. What is it we’re really trying to deter? Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century.”
The specific proposals advocated by the general were spelled out in a report released last week by the nuclear disarmament organization Global Zero (Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture, Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report, May 2012).
The report encourages Russia to make similar changes in its nuclear forces, but it argues that the U.S. can and should take the proposed steps unilaterally if necessary.
Hundreds of weapons would remain in the nuclear arsenals proposed by the report; the changes it advocates would thus leave a long road to travel to get to the ultimate goal of the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
But such steps could lay the groundwork for further reductions, and they would also significantly reduce the dangers still posed by U.S. and Russian nuclear postures that have remained little changed from the Cold War era.