When the Pentagon released a new strategy this January, it grabbed attention with the finding that “it is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.” The associated debate on the Hill has been strident, including last week’s exchange on the House floor between Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Representative Michael Turner (R-OH):
Mr. DICKS: And we can have a credible deterrent with a much smaller force… You don't need thousands of these weapons. A couple hundred, frankly, could take out Iran and almost any country you can imagine. So, again, we can't afford to do everything.
Mr. TURNER: The reality is that our nuclear deterrent is used every day… But there's a difference between nonproliferation and disarmament of the United States. Only the United States is reducing our nuclear weapons.
Our own Russell Rumbaugh’s recent Resolving Ambiguity report calculates that the US will ultimately spend roughly $352 to $392 billion on nuclear weapons arsenal over the next ten years, a number that underpins much of this debate. Meanwhile, the defense spending survey that we recently released shows that a representative sample of Americans considers the issue pretty clearly. They cut the nuclear apparatus by 27%, the biggest percentage chop other than war costs in the poll.
This debate, already heated, is likely to get only warmer – especially as the Air Force and the Navy simultaneously wrestle with expensive Triad procurements.