Obama's Nuclear Future

The Battle to Reduce the U.S. Nuclear Stockpile Begins

Obama in 2010. (Kevin Lamarque / Courtesy Reuters)

After two years of making steady progress in reducing the nuclear risks to the United States, President Barack Obama stalled in those efforts in the second half of his first term. Recent speeches and press reports indicate, however, that he is trying to revive the endeavor. With a new national security team in place, an emerging consensus forming around the need to reshape the nuclear arsenal, and budget realities forcing a reassessment of the size of the U.S. stockpile, Obama may well be positioned for success. 

When Obama came into office in 2009, he was ready to move beyond the United States’ Cold War nuclear posture, which calls for stockpiles that “are much larger than required for deterrence today and that have scant efficacy in dealing with the main contemporary threats to U.S. and global security,” as a 2012 report from Global Zero put it. His first nuclear policy review, finalized in April 2010, thus focused on preventing nuclear proliferation, securing all existing stockpiles (to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists and other nonstate actors), and reducing global arsenals. Each element of the policy was designed to reinforce the others: drawing down obsolete arsenals would help foster international cooperation, which the current nuclear powers needed to stand united against new nuclear states and to secure existing bomb materials. These developments, in turn, would promote a security environment comfortable enough for the current nuclear states to continue reducing their stockpiles.

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