The United States

Setting the stage for disarmament

Authored by: James J. Wirtz

Handbook of Nuclear Proliferation

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  February  2012

Print ISBN: 9781857436044
eBook ISBN: 9780203840849
Adobe ISBN:


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Although the USA has not built or designed a new nuclear weapon since the end of the Cold War, many still believe that advances in the US strategic nuclear arsenal are fuelling a dangerous arms race. This perception is based on lingering memories from the Cold War, a time when ‘Doomsday Clocks’, dark images of nuclear holocaust, and fears of accidents and inadvertent escalation preoccupied scholars and average citizens alike. 1 It also is based in part on the 2002 US Nuclear Posture Review, especially the George W. Bush Administration’s completely unsuccessful effort to seek money to fund a study of the desirability of developing low-yield nuclear weapons (i.e. the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator) to improve US counter-proliferation capabilities. 2 Critics remain focused on the elements of the 2002 Posture Review that called for force modernization, while ignoring the elements of the Bush Administration’s policy that de-emphasized the role of nuclear weapons in a new US ‘Strategic Deterrent’. 3 Observers have also contributed to the impression that the US nuclear arsenal is growing in relative capability by constructing unrealistic war-fighting scenarios that have attracted a good deal of scholarly and international attention. 4 But even a cursory examination of recent trends makes clear that the US nuclear enterprise is not a growth industry. Force structure is shrinking, entire types of delivery systems are being abandoned, industrial infrastructure is crumbling, and new programmes are limited to replacing systems facing block obsolescence. When it comes to nuclear weapons, the USA is no longer in what has traditionally been referred to as an ‘arms race’.

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