Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has fully disclosed decades worth of data about the size of America’s nuclear arsenal:
America’s official nuclear silence ended Monday when the Obama administration not only disclosed the number of U.S. nuclear weapons available for use in wartime — 5,113 as of Sept. 30 — but surprised many by also publishing weapons totals for each year dating to 1962. (Data from before 1962 were released in 1993.)
Apparently, administration officials believe that this might put pressure on Russia to likewise disclose information about its arsenal. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told Reuters on May 12 that his country may well follow suit:
“After the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents in Prague on April 8, comes into force, we will likewise be able to consider disclosing the total number of Russia’s deployed strategic delivery vehicles and the warheads they can carry,” he said.
If these disclosures had happened 25 years ago, they would have been truly remarkable:
“This figure is one of the crown jewels of the Cold War when it comes to state secrets,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in New York.
In 1967, the U.S. had over 31,000 nuclear weapons. The 85% reduction in the size of the U.S. arsenal reflects the remarkable changes that have occurred in the past twenty years. The latest disclosures likewise reflect ongoing efforts to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations.
That said, however, the stockpile numbers are not at all a surprise as Robert S. (Stan) Norris and various colleagues have been publishing very detailed estimates about nuclear stockpiles since the mid-1980s. In defense policy circles, even the cold war numbers were closer to “known knowns” than “known unknowns.”
Incidentally, I still have an early copy of Norris’s Nuclear Weapons Databook on my shelf. I met Norris as a grad student intern at Center for Defense Information in summer 1985; Norris left CDI for NRDC just the year before and sometimes stopped by the old stomping grounds. In summer 2008, loyal readers may recall, I noted that the Obama and Clinton campaigns included several prominent CDI alums — and hoped that their presence might have a desirable affect on U.S. security policy. Maybe Stan called in some debts!
Apparently, the Obama administration is disclosing this data now in hopes that it will promote its “global zero” efforts. In the interim, the goal is to sell that latest arms control deal in the Senate.