Strategic Weapons: The Economic Incentives Of Disarmament


July 17, 2013: Nuclear disarmament in the United States and Russia quietly continues. Recently the latest data on American and Russian strategic nuclear weapons was released. The U.S. has 792 (Russia 492) delivery systems (ICBM, SLBMs, and bombers), and these vehicles carry 1,654 (Russia 1,480) nuclear warheads. In addition, the U.S. has 230 (Russia 580) delivery systems that are not in service but could be made so with some time and effort. All 449 American ICBMs (land based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) are recently upgraded Minuteman IIIs. All 232 American SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles) are Trident IIs. The 111 American nuclear bombers consist of ten B-2A, 24 B-52G, and 77 B-52H. The Russian missiles are a much more varied collection with many of them liquid fueled models from the Cold War period. Same with the Russian bombers.

The U.S. and Russia are still negotiating disarmament deals to reduce their enormous Cold War nuclear weapons arsenals still further. Two decades of budget cuts and disarmament treaties have changed the "balance of terror" between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia). Both nations still have enough weapons to wipe each other out but there is now a lot less overkill.

This all began with START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) which came into force in 1994, and brought with it on-site inspections of Russian and American nuclear weapons and delivery systems, to insure that everyone was in compliance. The treaty called for each side to reduce their nuclear arsenal to 1,600 delivery systems and 6,000 warheads. The first START agreement expired in December, 2009, and a new one was signed in April, 2010. The new agreement requires Russia and the U.S. to each have no more than 1,550 nukes and no more than 700 delivery systems to carry them. The U.S. is still in the process of reducing its arsenal to the new limits. The Russians, mainly because they have had little money for new weapons in the last twenty years, are already under the limits. Both nations must be under the new limits by 2017 and the two countries are discussing further cuts, partly because maintaining all these nukes and their delivery systems is very expensive.

Back in 1991, the U.S. had 1,947 delivery systems (ICBM, SLBMs, and bombers) and 9,745 nuclear warheads. The Soviet Union had 2,483 delivery systems and 11,159 nuclear warheads. While major reductions were made in the 1990s, the disarmament process goes on, with delivery system and warhead counts being reduced each year. ICBMs cost over $50 million each and over a million dollars a year to maintain. Then there's the warheads for an ICBM, which cost as much to buy and maintain as the missile itself. Thus these disarmament deals save a lot of money, a factor the U.S. and Russia eventually came to appreciate.





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