NPT: Obama Reveals Size of US Nuclear Weapons Arsenal. Will Russia Respond?

By Weir, Fred | The Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

NPT: Obama Reveals Size of US Nuclear Weapons Arsenal. Will Russia Respond?


Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor


President Obama's stunning disclosure puts pressure on Russia to reciprocate. But Moscow relies much more heavily on its nuclear weapons arsenal for security and regional power.

Barack Obama has just spilled the exact number of nuclear weapons the United States deploys around the world - for decades a closely guarded secret.

Russian security analysts say they're impressed with President Obama's disclosure, which puts pressure on Moscow to reciprocate. But don't hold your breath waiting for a Russian response. Because Moscow relies much more heavily on its nuclear arsenal for security and regional influence than the US does, a dramatic announcement is unlikely, analysts in Russia say.

"It's a big PR victory for Obama, and a very strong signal that his talk of a nuclear-weapons-free world is not just empty rhetoric," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "But for Russia it's not so easy to match this step, due to differences in our security doctrine and the role of nuclear weapons in our defenses."

FAS calls on Russia to reciprocate

Ahead of the opening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York, the Obama administration revealed a US nuclear stockpile of 5,113 nuclear warheads as of September 2009. That includes all active weapons, both strategic and tactical, but not "several thousand" more that are awaiting dismantlement under arms control accords.

The Federation of American Scientists, which has been producing the best estimates of global nuclear arsenals from public sources for the past 30 years, noted proudly in a statement Tuesday that the Pentagon's official count is just 13 bombs off its own latest guess, and added that the US move "ends years of unnecessary and counterproductive secrecy" about atomic arms.

"Disclosing the size of the US nuclear weapons stockpile puts pressure on other nuclear-weapon states to reciprocate," the group says. "Russia, whose arsenal is more difficult to track and assess, should respond by divulging comparable information about the size and status of its nuclear stockpile."

The organization estimates that Russia currently deploys around 2,600 strategic nuclear warheads and 2,050 tactical ones. The exact number of strategic weapons - those with intercontinental capability, based missiles, submarines or bombers - would have been provided to the US in the course of negotiations for the recently signed START accord.

"Tactical" nuclear warheads usually have a smaller explosive yield than "strategic" ones and are typically mounted on missiles with a range of about 300 miles or less.

New Russian doctrine lowers threshold for using nukes

Russian analysts insist that the numbers of tactical weapons in Moscow's arsenal will not be so easy to estimate, or to divulge.

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