Commitment to Triad Trumps Commitment to Nuclear Zero

Michaela Dodge /

The Obama Administration’s commitment to maintain the U.S. strategic triad appears to be fading, writes Mark Schneider, former special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the New Strategic Arms Control Treaty (New START) negotiations.

Indeed, experts at The Heritage Foundation have been pointing out problems with the Administration’s commitment since it announced its plans to sustain the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Unfortunately, it seems that the White House’s commitment will not survive the first year after the treaty entered into force.

During the New START debate, the Obama Administration promised to increase funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. But its modernization plans have been constrained by its policy of no new nuclear weapons, no new military missions for them, and no new capabilities, as well as the President’s priority to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

In addition, the Obama Administration has announced yet another round of sweeping defense budget cuts, which are likely to translate to fewer resources for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

The first glimpse of the direction that the Administration’s modernization plan is heading was given earlier this year when the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee cut $500 million from the President’s $7.1 billion budget request for nuclear weapon activities. The Senate counterpart has cut $440 million. The Administration has made very little effort to prevent these cuts.

Despite its earlier claims of support for nuclear modernization, the Administration is now considering further unilateral nuclear cuts and eliminating a leg of the nuclear triad, which is comprised of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers. This might adversely affect the nonproliferation regime, as the United States is the only nuclear state that does not modernize its nuclear weapons but guarantees nuclear security to more than 30 nations all over the world.

Each leg of the triad is indispensable to assuring U.S. allies and deterring U.S. enemies. Without these assurances, allies would seek to develop their own capabilities. The Administration should realize that its commitment to nuclear weapons is more important than its unrealistic commitment to nuclear zero.