The White House has released figures on the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal: Our stockpile consists of 4,804 warheads. The good news, according to the State Department, is that this number "represents an 85% reduction." The bad news: That's the total reduction since 1967. The last four years tell a different story.
The release of this information is timed to coincide with a meeting at the UN to prepare for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. As a signatory to that treaty—and a declared nuclear-weapons state—the U.S. is obligated to demonstrate that it is making a good-faith effort to cease the nuclear arms race "at an early date," with the ultimate goal of complete nuclear disarmament.
So, how are we doing on that? According to an analysis by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS)—which publishes estimates of arsenals around the world—the Obama administration has done some good. The U.S. has dismantled 1,204 retired warheads (more than the nuclear weapons inventories of France, China, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea combined). And the White House has signed the New START Treaty, limiting U.S. and Russian deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 by 2018 — which is lower than the 2,200 limit negotiated in 2002.
But, how much smaller is our active stockpile? Since 2010, the number has dropped by only 309.
As FAS analyst Hans Kristensen observes:
Not exactly the "dramatic" reductions promised by Barack Obama during the 2008 election campaign.
In fact, the numbers demonstrate one, for the Obama administration, uncomfortable fact: it has yet to make a noticeable dent in the stockpile.
Big stockpile reductions over the past 30 years have all happened during Republican presidents. Although the Clinton administration dismantled over 11,000 retired nuclear warheads, it did not make significant reductions in the remaining stockpile or the number of warheads deployed on launchers. After the W Bush administration cut the stockpile nearly in half and offloaded more than half of the warheads deployed on strategic launchers, the Obama administration's policies so far have had only a modest effect on the size of the stockpile and the number of warheads deployed on strategic launchers.
You can see the comparative reductions in the chart above. Kristensen acknowledges that the Republican Congress has fought the administration on nuclear reductions. But, he adds, the White House itself has "reaffirmed long-standing nuclear policy, protected the force structure, and emphasized modernizations of nuclear forces…. Both Russia and the United States need to cut defense spending and both still have nuclear arsenals that are vastly in excess of national security needs."