President Trump was reported in July to have suggested that the United States needed to increase its nuclear arsenal tenfold. Earlier in the year, Prime Minister Putin told Trump he was willing to extend New START (the most recent Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty); Trump refused. Both of these events are troubling.
There are approximately 336 cities in the world with a population of over one million. New START allows both the United States and the Russian Federation to each have 1,550 deployed (ready to launch) strategic warheads. Each country has additional warheads — not deployed — but these are unlikely to be used during a general exchange. Both countries could put five strategic weapons on every large city in the world. All of these cities would disappear. The hinterlands surrounding these cities would lose communications and transportation. Distribution of water and food would end. Civilization would end. “The living would envy the dead.”
The United States has only nine cities with populations over one million; Russia has only 10. Fifty deployed warheads would allow each of us to destroy the other fairly completely. There are about 75 U.S. cities with over 250,000 inhabitants (including Bakersfield). All could be destroyed by 75-plus warheads. Why do we need so many?
There have been many analyses of how many warheads might be “enough.” Russia and the US each have about 7,000 warheads — at least half of which are headed to disassembly. The other seven nuclear nations have about 200 warheads each. Of the nine nuclear nations, four are essentially violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India, Israel and Pakistan never signed the treaty, but the DPRK (North Korea) did.
Arms Control and Disarmament have a long history. Most religions have strong pacifistic, anti-war biases — all too easily overcome. In World War I, German Army belt buckles were inscribed Gott mit Uns (God is with us). All nations going to war think that God is with them. Both Christian and Muslim leaders in the past tried to reduce the prevalence and lethality of warfare. More recently, the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact tried to outlaw war. In spite of the treaty, and in spite of the carnage of World War I, World War II started a decade later.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had a strong effect on the psyches of both Russia and the U.S. Both sides realized that they had come very close to starting World War III. Both sides wanted to cool things down, but Russia (the Soviet Union then) wanted to “catch up” first. By the mid-1970s, the two sides had a combined total of about 80,000 warheads.
By the 1960s, both sides had recognized the advantages of détente and were negotiating and signing the NPT (1968). Hot on the heels of NPT was the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. At the same time, they began to negotiate Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT-1, -2, -3 …) followed by Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START-1, -2, -3 … New START). The two countries have reduced their stockpiles from a total of 80,000 warheads to 15,000 warheads and only 1,550 deployed delivery systems. This is still too many!
Article VI of the NPT required the five nuclear weapons states (U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China) to make progress toward nuclear disarmament. While the reduction from 80,000 to 15,000 is impressive, we are far from zero. World War III would still destroy human civilization and possibly all of humanity.
David J. Whalen has a PhD in public policy. For a decade he taught military space at the University of North Dakota where he was chair of the Space Studies Department from 2007-2010. He earlier spent three decades as an executive in the satellite communications business. As an officer in the U.S. Navy (1966-1971), he served two tours in Vietnam. Flying the A-6 Intruder, he was assigned to planning various nuclear targets. Many years later he had a customer in Russia who marveled at his familiarity with the local area: it was the site of the first nuclear mission he ever planned. He currently teaches physics and astronomy at Bakersfield College.