Oct 11, 2017

How the U.S. nuclear arsenal stacks up to Russia

This is roughly the kind of historical information Trump saw this July at a Pentagon meeting that prompted him to say he wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold, as NBC News reported Wednesday morning.

Data: Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Notebook; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios
The Facts:

The concern was that in the 1960s the U.S. had the most nuclear weapons stockpiled, which has since declined. But officials in the room reportedly told Trump that although the arsenal is smaller now than it was in the 60s, it is stronger.

  • Strong, marginal, and weak: The Heritage Foundation's 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength scores the current U.S. nuclear stockpile as "strong," the second-highest ranking just after "very strong" on their scale. Delivery platforms were also ranked "strong." However, Heritage labeled overall nuclear power "marginal," the third-strongest rank. The "weak" ranking fell to warhead modernization efforts in the U.S. as well as to the facilities that develop and host these components.
  • No guarantees, pitfalls remain: The nuclear arsenal, like much of the military, suffers from "force degradation resulting from many years of underinvestment, poor execution of modernization programs, and the negative effects of budget sequestration (cuts in funding) on readiness and capacity," Heritage writes. Similarly, future pitfalls to the nuclear stockpile's viability remain since it's not a guarantee that the long-term effects of aging materials won't compromise nuclear weapons. Plus, without nuclear testing, assessments of viability are, in effect, incomplete — simulations these days are based on tests conducted in the 50s and 60s — so problems in the stockpile as it ages may go unchecked.
  • Put it in perspective: If, indeed Trump wanted to increase the nuclear stockpile, which stands at about 4,000 nuclear warheads right now, that would make the U.S. nuclear muscle greater than all other countries' known nuclear arsenals combined. Trump later Wednesday said it was "frankly disgusting" that media can write whatever it wants. The Pentagon is currently conducting its Nuclear Posture Review.
  • India, Israel, and Pakistan have not signed onto the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but are known to have nuclear weapons, according to the Arms Control Association.

Go deeper

Exclusive: John Bolton hits Trump for bluffing on North Korea nukes

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Ed Jones/AFP, Saul Loeb/AFP, Brendan Smialowski/AFP, and Sergei Gapon/AFP all via Getty Images

In his sharpest criticism yet of his old workplace, John Bolton suggested the Trump administration is bluffing about stopping North Korea's nuclear ambitions — and soon might need to admit publicly that its policy failed badly.

Driving the news: Bolton told me in an interview that he does not think the administration "really means it" when President Trump and top officials vow to stop North Korea from having deliverable nuclear weapons — "or it would be pursuing a different course."

Go deeperArrowDec 22, 2019

Susan Rice tears into Trump over "despicable lies" on Obama and Iran

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former national security adviser Susan Rice ripped into President Trump on MSNBC Wednesday over his blaming the Obama administration, in which she served, for rising tensions in Iran.

This is another series of despicable lies by President Trump. The fact that ... he remains obsessed with President Obama just shows President Trump's extreme weakness and insecurity."
— Susan Rice on MSNBC
Go deeperArrowJan 9, 2020

Trump brushes off North Korea "Christmas gift"

President Trump on Dec. 24. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump on Tuesday dismissed North Korea's threat of a "Christmas gift" for the U.S., saying the military would “deal with it very successfully," Reuters reports.

Why it matters: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un said in October that the U.S. had until year’s end to propose new concessions in talks over his country’s nuclear arsenal and warned the U.S. to not ignore the deadline.

Go deeperArrowDec 24, 2019