As the inauguration draws ever closer, tweets and comments loom larger and larger. Today's post was adapted from an op-ed piece written by MIT Professor Emeritus Aron Bernstein and appeared in The Hill on January 12, 2017.
This question also looms large: Why would the U.S. need to strengthen its nuclear capabilities? Our current capacity is approximately 4,500 nuclear weapons, which includes 900 nuclear warheads on high alert, ready to launch within 30 minutes of warning. More than half of these are on 14 submarines. Each sub typically carries 20 missiles with a total of close to 100 independently targeted nuclear warheads (MIRVs). Each warhead is at least seven times more powerful than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki atomic bombs.
The explosive power of one nuclear submarine can effectively destroy the targeted country. In addition, it could cause a significant worldwide decrease in global temperatures and agricultural output that could lead to widespread famine.
However, our firepower is not limited to just one submarine; we typically have approximately half of the fourteen on patrol, each of which could unleash a similar bombardment. This does not include the comparable firepower of our land- based missiles and nuclear-armed bombers.
We are not alone in our overkill capacity. Russia has a comparable nuclear arsenal. This includes about 900 nuclear weapons on high alert (similar to our alert status). In addition, both the U.S. and Russia are modernizing their already formidable nuclear arsenals, making them even more deadly; these plans extend over several decades. The Obama administration's budget is projecting a trillion dollars’ worth of maintenance and upgrades to all three nuclear weapons delivery systems: land and submarine based ballistic missiles and bombers, as well as the associated nuclear weapons.
These plans represent enormous expenditures, which are likely to crowd out other urgent national needs. It is even more ironic that these increased expenditures will leave both countries, and the rest of the world, with a significantly increased risk of an accidental nuclear war.
In view of the present overkill capability of both the U.S. and Russia, isn't now time that "the world comes to its senses regarding nukes?”
Aron Bernstein is Professor of Physics Emeritus at MIT and a board member of Council for a Livable World. He has been working on arms control issues for decades, focused on educating policy makers and the public on the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.