Obama aims to shrink US nuclear arsenal

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama wants to sharply reduce the size of the nation’s already-reduced nuclear deterrent force, according to information leaked to The New York Times.

“White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000 …. [down from] about 1,700,” said the report, which is based on a briefing given by an “official who was involved in the [White House] deliberations.”

Obama, the official said, “believes that we can make pretty radical reductions … without compromising American security in the second term.”

In 2010, the U.S. had roughly 2,468 nuclear weapons deployed on submarines, bombers and underground missiles, according to a mid-2010 report by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a pro-disarmament group,.

The U.S. also has a few thousand nuclear weapons in maintenance or in storage, but their number is being reduced.

The Pentagon’s Joint Staff has already agreed to Obama’s preferred cut, the official claimed.

The leak may reflect Obama’s second-term effort to sign more Cold War-style weapons deals with the former Soviet Union.

In March 2012, a hot-mic broadcast Obama’s quiet statement to then-Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev that “after my election I [will] have more flexibility.”

GOP leaders and activists slammed that whispered offer of cooperation.

Obama’s pitch essentially said to the Russians that “’If you want someone who is going to give you what you want, help us, and you won’t get Romney,’” Ambassador John Bolton told The Daily Caller in 2012. (RELATED: Romney uses Medvedev statement to smack Obama)

Obama’s weapon-cutting plan is backed by his nominee to run the Pentagon.

Sen. Chuck Hagel “is a supporter of [the] Global Zero [group], which has called for worldwide elimination by 2030,” claimed a January statement from Politifact. “The report [Hagel] co-authored [in May 2012] calls for reducing the U.S. stockpile to 900 nuclear warheads by 2022, but it says that the best way to achieve that reduction is together with Russia and other countries.”

Hagel has not been confirmed by the Senate, and he faces a possible filibuster after declining to detail the source of donations he received after he left the Senate.

Russia, however, is not the only significant nuclear power. American officials also need to deter China’s growing nuclear weapons force.

In November, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported that China is fielding a new series of nuclear weapons, including submarine-carried missiles.

When asked to estimate the number of China’s long-range nuclear weapons, commission member Larry Wortzel said “we just don’t know.”

Most estimates gauge the Chinese nuclear force at up to 500 weapons.

But “if the Chinese are going to go forward with all these modernization efforts which they are undertaking — road, mobile and air — they are going to upend the entire [U.S.-Russian] arms control regime that currently exists,” said C. Richard D’Amato, also a panel member, according to a November CNN report.

“They need to be brought into some sort of dialog to develop some kind of understanding as to where we are all going together on arms control,” D’Amato said.

The New York Times also reported that Obama’s deputies are looking to cut spending on the laboratories that maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons.

Without constant maintenance and periodic refueling with a radioactive form of hydrogen called tritium, nuclear weapons gradually lose most of their explosive power.

In 2009, Obama promised to boost the labs in exchange for GOP support of a U.S.-Russian treaty reducing nuclear weapons to 1,550 by 2018.

But Obama is now “already moving quietly … to explore whether he can scale back a 10-year, $80 billion program to modernize the country’s weapons laboratories,” said the New York Times newspaper.

Technically, the proposed weapon reduction would need approval from Congress. But Obama is the military’s Commander in Chief, and has the legal authority to deploy or store nuclear weapons already funded by Congress, unless Congress specifically limits his actions.

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