The alternative plans for a modernised US nuclear force offer distinct advantages over the current plan in terms of boosting nuclear security and supporting the global non-proliferation regime.

Decisions concerning the renewal of the nuclear arsenal also bear directly on the US objective to support nuclear non-proliferation globally, including through international agreements. US security depends on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is near-universally regarded as increasing the risk of a conflict involving nuclear weapons – or of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. US nuclear weapons and materials must be secure from the threat of efforts by state or non-state actors to steal or sabotage them. The goals of nuclear security and non-proliferation are articulated in all official documents on US nuclear strategy.
Nuclear security

The 2013 Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy stated ‘Today’s most immediate and extreme danger remains nuclear terrorism.’ This danger persists and was recently highlighted by the Defense Science Board’s ‘Seven Priorities for the New Administration’ report, and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The crux of this threat is the real possibility that terrorists or non-state actors could acquire fissile material or nuclear weapons, and the certainty that they would have the motivation to use them against the US or its allies. This motivation is not tempered by the threat of nuclear retaliation, as is the case in state-to-state deterrence. The social, political and economic consequences of the detonation of even a crude terrorist nuclear bomb in any major urban area would be severe, so any plan to modernise nuclear forces should take this risk into account.

Dr James E. Doyle formerly a specialist in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, focuses on strategic planning and policy development in the field of nuclear weapons.

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