As tensions between the United States and North Korea heat up, President Trump tweeted Wednesday that that the American nuclear arsenal, under his presidency, has become “far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”
This is plainly false. Little progress has been made to change the American nuclear arsenal since Trump took office. But there is a small kernel of truth in his statement. Right now, American nukes are in the midst of a modernization program that could cost more than $1 trillion.
In 2014, President Obama ordered American nuclear weapons to be modernized. His plan, expected to cost $400 billion through 2024 — and, according to outside estimates, more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years — calls for upgrades to nuclear weapons facilities, improved warheads and the construction of new submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles that can carry nuclear weapons.
This process will take years. In other words, the American nuclear arsenal is just about the same as it was when Trump took office. Also, Trump claimed nuclear modernization was his first order. It wasn’t. It came a week into his presidency, after he had made nearly a dozen orders on other things.
“I think also you're aware that we are reviewing our nuclear posture right now,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Thursday. “Obviously, we're reviewing our ballistic missile defense.”
U.S nuclear strategy relies on the so-called triad of delivery systems: bombers, subs and land-based missiles. This strategy was developed during the Cold War to guarantee that in the event of a surprise attack, at least one leg would remain standing to deliver a counterstrike. During Republican presidential debates, Trump appeared stumped by questions about the triad strategy.
Trump has proposed a $1.4 billion budget increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons program, but it hasn’t been approved by Congress.
As of July 8, the United States has 6,800 warheads, according to data from Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris at the Federation of American Scientists. Some 1,800 of them are deployed, another 2,200 are stockpiled and 2,800 are retired. Russia, with 7,000 warheads, has the most.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 2010 requires Russia and the U.S. to reduce deployed intercontinental missiles to 700 and the overall number of warheads on ICBMs, submarines and bombers to 1,550 each by 2018. State Department data indicates that both sides currently meet those limits.
Nine countries have or are believed to have nuclear weapons, according to the Arms Control Association. They are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea.