Officials declassify nuclear stockpile details to promote transparency
by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
5/4/2010 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- U.S. officials released newly declassified details about the country's nuclear stockpile May 3, including significant progress made in dismantling warheads, in an effort to promote transparency and help stem nuclear proliferation.
The United States had 5,113 warheads in its nuclear weapons stockpile as of Sept. 30, a senior defense official told reporters on background.
That represents an 84-percent reduction from the end of fiscal 1967, when the U.S. nuclear arsenal was its largest, with 31,255 warheads, the official said. The current stockpile is 75 percent lower than when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989, and the United States had 22,217 warheads.
Officials are making continued progress in dismantling nuclear warheads, with 8,748 dismantled between fiscal years 1994 and 2009 and several thousand more currently retired and awaiting dismantlement, the official noted. Meanwhile, the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal dropped about 90 percent from Sept. 30, 1991, to Sept. 30, 2009.
"For those who doubt that the United States will do its part on disarmament, this is our record, these are our commitments," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the U.N. conference on the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, May 3 in New York. "And they send a clear, unmistakable message."
A senior defense official expressed hope that it would set a standard for the rest of the world, including China, to be more transparent about their nuclear weapons programs.
Secretary Clinton said the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, once approved, will further limit the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by both countries to levels not seen since the 1950s.
She also noted that the new Nuclear Posture Review, released in April, rules out the development of new U.S. nuclear weapons and new missions and capabilities for existing weapons. It also prohibits the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are parties to the NPT and comply with its nonproliferation obligations.
President Barack Obama has made reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear materials a central mission of U.S. foreign policy, Secretary Clinton told the conference.
"I represent a president and a country committed to a vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and to taking the concrete steps necessary that will help us get there," she said. "And, along with my delegation, I come to this conference with sincere and serious proposals to advance the fundamental aims of the NPT and strengthen the global nonproliferation regime."
Although most nations live up to their nonproliferation responsibilities, Secretary Clinton said Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions put the entire world at risk and urged the international community to hold it accountable.
She called out Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for spewing "the same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations" against the United States and other nations during his address to the assembly earlier in the day. "Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and ... attempt to evade accountability," she said.
Secretary Clinton urged Iran to join with other countries represented at the conference to "fulfill our international obligations and work toward the goal of a safer world."
"When President Obama came into office, he recognized that the greatest potential danger facing the United States comes from a terrorist group like al-Qaida obtaining a crude nuclear device, not from a global nuclear war," she said. "The threats of the 21st century cannot be addressed with a massive nuclear stockpile. So we are taking irreversible, transparent, verifiable steps to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our arsenal."
But in the meantime, Secretary Clinton emphasized that U.S. officials won't eliminate all nuclear weapons until it's safe to do so.
"The United States will maintain a nuclear deterrent for as long as nuclear weapons exist, one that can protect our country and our allies," she said.
The U.S. nuclear stockpile includes both active and inactive warheads, defense officials explained. Active warheads include strategic and non-strategic weapons maintained in an operational, ready-for-use configuration, warheads that must be ready for possible deployment within a short timeframe, and logistics spares.
Inactive warheads are maintained in a non-operational status at depots, and have their tritium bottles removed.
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