US nuclear forces
In 1945, as part of the effort to defeat the Axis powers in World War II, the United States became the first nation to acquire--and thus far the only nation to employ in war--nuclear weapons. Today, over 50 years later, the United States, as one of the five nations (including Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China) with an acknowledged nuclear weapons capability, continues to believe that 'nuclear weapons will be part of the cornerstone of our deterrent strategy for some time into the future'. 1 Some analysts maintain that 'continuing uncertainty over the status of nuclear forces in Northeast Asia is the most dangerous feature of Asia-Pacific security'. 2
Since the end of the Cold War, many aspects of US nuclear forces have undergone significant change. In order to understand the current situation, it is necessary to briefly review these changes.
One of the hallmarks of the Cold War was the nuclear 'arms race' and related nuclear arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. For example, concerning the most powerful nuclear forces, as of September 1990 the US strategic (i.e. long-range, intercontinental) nuclear forces consisted of nearly thirteen thousand nuclear warheads deployed on nearly two thousand land-, air- and sea-based launchers, including missiles and bombers.
At the same time, the Soviet Union had deployed nearly eleven thousand nuclear warheads on about 2500 strategic launchers, also distributed among land-, air- and sea-based forces, including missiles and bombers.
In late July 1991, following nine years of negotiations, the United States and the USSR (in its last few months of existence) signed a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (known as START), and