Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Washington's strategic thinking about nuclear weapons has evolved in dangerous and unwise directions. In January 2002, the Bush administration announced a new nuclear posture, which it reiterated in 2006. But instead of doing what it claimed it would do -- adapt American nuclear strategy to the realities of the twenty-first century -- the administration has focused on addressing threats that either no longer exist or never required a nuclear response. Rather than protecting the United States, this posture constitutes a danger to U.S. security.
The risks posed by nuclear weapons today are daunting, but rarely in the same ways that they used to be. As the nuclear club has expanded since the end of the Cold War, so have the dangers posed by the possibility of an inadvertent release of nuclear weapons, a regional nuclear conflict, nuclear proliferation, or the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists. At the same time, the military utility of nuclear weapons for the United States has decreased dramatically. Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, is no longer an adversary, and the United States, now the world's unchallenged conventional military power, can address almost all its military objectives by nonnuclear means. The only valid residual mission of U.S. nuclear weapons today is thus to deter others from using nuclear weapons. Given all this, it does not make sense for the United States to maintain a nuclear weapons stockpile of close to 10,000 warheads -- many of them set on hair-trigger alert -- and to continue to deploy nuclear weapons overseas.
An effective nuclear policy would take into account the limited present-day need for a nuclear arsenal as well as the military and political dangers associated with maintaining a massive stockpile. Building a new generation of warheads, as the Bush administration has proposed, would only compound these risks further.
Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, but as former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former
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