WASHINGTON — The number of nuclear warheads kept in U.S. stockpiles decreased by nearly 200 since the end of the Obama administration, according to information released by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists. This reduction brings the total number of warheads down to 3,822 as of September 2017.
While this downsizing may seem to contradict the Trump administration’s position on U.S. nuclear posture, these reductions reflect “a longer trend of the Pentagon working to reduce excess numbers of warheads while upgrading the remaining weapons,” according to Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at FAS.
In October 2017, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis denied reports claiming the president was calling for an increase in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“Although defense hawks home and abroad will likely seize upon the reduction and argue that it undermines deterrence and reassurance, the reality is that it does not; the remaining arsenal is more than sufficient to meet the requirements for national security and international obligations,” Kristensen said. “On the contrary, it is a reminder that there still is considerable excess capacity in the current nuclear arsenal beyond what is needed.”
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review introduced two new low-yield nuclear-capable weapons to the U.S. arsenal, a sea-launched cruise missile and a nuclear-tipped D-5 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Although the necessity and cost of these systems have been heavily questioned by critics, the capabilities have been defended by those inside the Pentagon as a necessary response to the return to great-power competition and a rapidly evolving 21st century threat environment.