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Public Health Interventions for U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy

An Intervention for the 21st Century Nuclear Arms Race

The United States flouts its existing disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by planning an extensive upgrade of the nuclear arsenal. Despite numerical reductions in the nuclear stockpile since the United States and Russia signed the New START Treaty in 2010, the United States plans to spend $1.2 trillion to upgrade the capability of its nuclear arsenal by investing in qualitative improvements in existing weaponry.

Upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal signals to other countries that the United States is not honoring its disarmament obligations. The proposed buildup shows that the United States is committed to maintaining its nuclear arsenal indefinitely.

Proposed spending will upgrade existing weapons and delivery systems, as well as completely replace some systems with new ones. The effort would include spending on:

  • A new fleet of 12 ballistic missile submarines to replace retiring submarines, each holding 20 missiles and up to 8 warheads per missile.
  • Replacing Minuteman III land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with new missiles and supporting infrastructure.
  • A new strategic bomber fleet and continuing modification of current bombers, including the purchase of 80-100 new bombers to replace older models.
  • Developing a new fleet of 1,000 long range standoff missiles (LRSOs) to replace air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Hair-Trigger Alert

Nuclear weapons can be launched in a moment’s notice. There are approximately 1,800 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. U.S. land-based missiles can be launched in five minutes and submarine-based missiles can be launched within fifteen minutes. Current nuclear launch procedures grant the president total authority to decide whether to start a nuclear war at any moment.

Hair-trigger alert reflects how nuclear weapons were designed for speed, not safety. A nuclear catastrophe would most likely occur by accident, not design. In fact, there have been more than a dozen known cases of near-launches nuclear weapons due to technological glitches, miscommunication, false information, espionage, and conflict escalation. Removing nuclear weapons from hair-trigger alert is a common-sense step to prevent a nuclear catastrophe of potentially global magnitude.

Page Updated September 14, 2017