Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2011

Low Numbers: A Practical Path to Deep Nuclear Reductions

James M. Acton

March 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


U.S. policy seeks to create the conditions that would allow for deep reductions in nuclear arsenals. Th is report off ers a practical approach to reducing the U.S. and Russian stockpiles to 500 nuclear warheads each and those of other nucleararmed states to no more than about half that number. This target would require Washington and Moscow to reduce their arsenals by a factor often. To achieve these low numbers, the United States should:

Take a comprehensive approach on arms control.

Achieving deep reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons will be difficult, for both technical and political reasons. Moreover, such reductions could create challenges to “strategic stability.” As a result, U.S. arms control policy must adopt a comprehensive approach aimed at verifi ably eliminating warheads (including tactical and non-deployed ones), deterring rearmament, and reducing the incentives to use nuclear weapons fi rst in a crisis. To accomplish this, formal arms control eff orts must limit certain types of high-precision conventional weapons, phase out missiles armed with multiple warheads, and enhance the transparency of nuclear weapon production complexes. More informal confi dence building between the United States and Russia—on ballistic missile defense in particular—also has a key role to play, not least because it may help cement a lasting domestic political consensus in the United States around scaling defenses to the size of the threats posed by Iran and North Korea.