There is a widespread belief among many people – fostered by leftist organizations seeking America’s unilateral disarmament – that even a small number of nuclear warheads is sufficient for nuclear deterrence, so it doesn’t matter – according to that theory – if Russia will have more nuclear weapons than the US does. According to that view, America can therefore – allegedly – afford to cut its nuclear arsenal unilaterally and deeply and still be secure.
Nothing could be further from the truth. That belief is utterly wrong.
It matters a huge deal how many nuclear weapons the US has vis-a-vis potential adversaries.
For effective deterrence, it isn’t enough to have some nuclear weapons; you must have more than any potential adversary. Deterrence works only if the adversary knows that in response to his attacks you would be willing and able to launch a devastating retaliation that would destroy him.
For that to be possible, you must have at least – repeat, AT LEAST – enough nuclear warheads and delivery systems to survive an enemy first strike and then deliver a devastating retaliation whose consequences for the enemy would be too frightening to even contemplate.
In other words, you must have enough nuclear warheads – and enough delivery systems – to ensure that a large number of them will survive the enemy’s devastating first strike (a preemptive one) and be available to retaliate against the enemy.
For that to be possible, you must have a VERY LARGE nuclear arsenal. A small one will be woefully inadequate – it would be easily destroyed in a first strike by the enemy.
Russia currently possesses 8,000 nuclear warheads, including around 4,500 of them deployed. Of these deployed warheads, 1,643 are strategic. But that isn’t all: Russia’s triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, ballistic missile submarines, and intercontinental bombers could deliver two times that amount of warheads. The Russian ICBM fleet alone could deliver over 1,200 warheads to the CONUS; the bomber fleet, 700 warheads; the ballistic missile submarine fleet, at least 1,400.
And as Russia replaces its 4-warhead R-29RMU Sinyeva submarine-launched missiles with newer, 10-warhead Bulava and 12-warhead Liner missiles, the number of warheads carried by its submarine fleet will increase even further.
Russia currently has 12 ballistic missile submarines that can carry 16 missiles each, and one submarine capable of carrying 20 missiles. 10 of those submarines are in service at any given time. That equals 164 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Assuming every one of these 164 missiles were a Bulava (RSM-56/SS-NX-30) armed with 10 warheads, that would enable the Russian Navy’s ballistic missile submarines to deliver 1,640 warheads.
Asssuming every one of those 164 missiles were a Liner, however, the Russian Navy’s ballistic missile submarine fleet could deliver 1,968 warheads to the CONUS. Almost 2,000 warheads – delivered by Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles alone.
Remember: in order to effectively deter Russia from perpetrating aggression, the US nuclear arsenal has to be LARGE ENOUGH to withstand any Russian (or Chinese) first strike and then still have enough nuclear warheads, deployed on a sufficiently large number of delivery vehicles, to unleash a devastating retaliation on Russia – meaning, striking ALL of Russia’s thousands of military and economic assets.
That cannot be done with a small arsenal of just a few hundred warheads – they would be easily destroyed by Russian nuclear warheads attacking the US, and America’s noisy ballistic missile submarines would be easily found by the Russian Navy. Moreover, a few hundred warheads – even if they survived at all, which they wouldn’t – would be woefully inadequate to destroy Russia’s thousands of military, economic, and geostrategic assets.
A small number of warheads and delivery systems could – due to its small size – be easily destroyed by any aggressor, thus enabling a state like Russia or China to nuke each target several times to make sure it’s been destroyed.
Thus, a small nuclear arsenal would be utterly inadequate for America’s deterrence needs – let alone the need to protect all allies of the US who rely on the US nuclear umbrella for their national security and their very survival.
Hence, the US must NOT reduce its nuclear arsenal any further.