The Biden administration revealed how many nukes America has on Tuesday, abandoning a Trump-era policy of nuclear secrecy. Between its active and stored nukes, the U.S. is sitting on 3,750 world-ending weapons as of the last official count in September 2020. In 2018 the number was 3,805, so 55 fewer weapons than last count.
According to the State Department, the U.S. has dismantled 711 nukes since 2017 and has 2,000 more retired ready for dismantling.
According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), who have been tracking the number of nukes in the world for decades, there’s roughly 13,100 nuclear warheads total on the planet. Hans Kristensen, the director of the FAS Nuclear Information Project, praised the disclosure as a return to transparency.
The revelation marks a stark change from the Trump-era policy of nuclear secrecy. Under the previous administration, nuclear stockpile numbers were kept secret, ostensibly, as a means of deterrence against Russia and China. Nuclear treaties were up for renewal, including the Obama-era New START, during the administration and Trump wanted Russia and China to make a better deal. He figured that keeping the number of nukes hidden would do that.
It didn’t. China’s response to entering nuclear negotiations was always to point out that it had around 300 nukes and Russia and the U.S. had thousands. That may be changing. Experts have noticed the construction of 250 new long range missile silos scattered across China in a move that may be part of a new nuclear buildup.
China’s new silos are part of a troubling trajectory from the past five years. Nuclear weapons are back in vogue. Russia has said it’s working on several new nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom wants to grow its stockpile, and Trump claimed America was working on new nuclear weapons and toyed with the idea of resuming nuclear testing.
Biden’s disclosure of the stockpile size is a step back from the brink, but it’ll take more than that to reverse the disastrous course of the last five years. “Transparency and good-faith efforts to reduce nuclear dangers are an important part of a reassurance strategy to mobilize opposition in Europe to Russia’s crazy nuclear programs like the doomsday torpedo, the nuclear-powered cruise missile, and so on,” Jeffery Lewis, a nuclear policy expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California said on Twitter.
“Releasing the size of the stockpile is a small but helpful part of that; a way to illustrate that we’re different. All of which is to say to the [U.S. Government]: Good job! I fully expected you to shoot yourself in the foot and you proved me wrong.”
We’ll know more about Biden’s position on nuclear weapons when his administration releases its Nuclear Posture Review—a formal declaration of Washington’s position on the use of nuclear weapons. The Pentagon has said the review will drop early next year.
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