Thursday, October 7, 2021

US nuke stockpile shrinks drastically - but so what?


On Tuesday the Biden administration issued a report detailing the number of nuclear warheads in the US arsenal.  It's way down from where it was.

As of September 2020, the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads consisted of 3,750 warheads. This number represents an approximate 88 percent reduction in the stockpile from its maximum (31,255) at the end of fiscal year 1967, and an approximate 83 percent reduction from its level (22,217) when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989.

Additionally, 2,000 of the current warheads are scheduled to be dismantled, which will reduce the US stockpile to no more than 1,750 warheads.

I can only say:  So what???

If all those 1,750 warheads were used - and please God not even one of them will be! - this planet would become as near to uninhabitable as it's ever likely to get.  Nuclear fallout would circle the globe, riding the winds of the high altitudes.  It would pollute farmland, preventing food crops from growing;  it would cause literally billions of deaths and/or cases of radiation sickness;  it would devastate economies, nations, alliances and continents.  Throw in similar numbers of warheads being used by our enemies against us, and you might as well write off the planet Earth and the human race altogether.  All that would be left are a few unfortunate astronauts hanging around in space, who could watch their former home turn into a radioactive cinder while they starved to death, with nowhere to go.

Nuclear weapons have always been a weapon we dare not use in any sort of quantity.  We didn't understand that implication in 1945.  We certainly do understand it now.

I don't care if Russia, or China, or any other nation, amasses thousands of nuclear warheads.  If they use them, they'll be toast just as much as their target nation will be toast.  This is a two-edged sword that will cut the aggressor as deeply as the victim.

By all means, let us have a stockpile of nuclear weapons sufficient to deter attack - but let's be under no illusions about the consequences to ourselves of using them.



Billll said...

A close similarity to the argument for not using or developing biological weapons. Look how far that got us.

Divemedic said...

The problem that many don't understand is that there is a point where a nation possesses too few to act as a deterrent. Most nuclear warheads are tasked to counterforce, that is they are targeted at other nations' weapons. When there are no longer enough for that mission, other countries can see that as a winnable nuclear exchange.

bruce said...

depends where they go off as to how bad it is

The Guy said...

This was discussed on another Blog. The point made was the delivery systems were of "Ford Pinto " quality. We could nail the Marshall Islands pretty much every time, but anywhere else on the planet was a crap shoot. Hence the MIRV system.

Gerry said...

1) Isn't the same bunch of experts that proposed the nuclear winter theory the same group who now push global warming?

2) Having 3700 warheads does not mean you get to launch them all. Currently I would be surprised if 50% are viable. Not all are strategic, some are tactical. The same hold true when you get to 1750.

3) Those systems are spread thru the triad of bombers, missiles and subs. The bombers are not forward deployed, the USAF missile command is in taters and the ballistic subs no longer deploy with a full complement of weapons. Not all warheads are in massive city busters.

4) When the PRC can afford absorb the number of casualties equal to the total population of the US and continue on, quantity is a quality.

5) The biggest deterrent is the person in control of the force. The enemy must know the POTUS will, if pushed, use nuclear weapons. Joe Biden garners no respect from any government on the planet especially the ChiComs.

lpdbw said...

I recommend reading "Nuclear War Survival Skills" prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory by Cresson Kearny.

Many of the assumptions you made in your post are incorrect.

I'd rather not have a nuclear war, really, but if the alternative is being ruled by Chinese Communists, I'm not sure that's a better option.

Peter said...

@lpdbw: Courtesy of Wikipedia's entry on that book -

"In an article sharply critical of the whole genre, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Vol 39, 1983) ... [says] that the basic flaw with NWSS and the other books reviewed is that they deal only with short-term survival, and sidestep putting heavy thought into the long-term ramifications of nuclear conflict for the continued survival of both their assiduous readers and the balance of the human race."

Sure, one can survive a major nuclear exchange in the short term. A year later? Two years later? Nobody knows, but the prognosis from those that understand the situation better than most is that it's doubtful.

Once you get that amount of radiation in the atmosphere, in the winds, in the ocean currents, in the glaciers and rivers and dams and lakes . . . it moves into the food chain for every species on earth, and affects all those who consume it. I don't think we could survive that.

Sam L. said...

I spent 8 years of my life in the AF learning how to and then babysit i8 Titan II missile and 150 Minuteman 2s. Ja, I vass a Mole Man in 33 holes in the ground.

SL said...

A lot of tests. No nuclear winter. No failed crops. Admittedly spread out over some number of years, however some years saw significant numbers of tests...

Beans said...

The big thing about a nuclear winter is, well, a nuclear exchange will act like volcanoes in throwing dirt and dust into the air. That is, if they are all ground strikes. Air bursts are far cleaner, doing their damage from pressure and heat.

As to MIRVs, the theory behind them isn't to insure that one of the warheads will work, the theory is that many small warheads are harder to stop than one big one. We had nailing the big ones down pat by 1972, either by direct hit or by nuclear burst (I've seen Sprint and Spartan missiles work, it was amazing technology.) Spread the damage on a city using multiple warheads and you can overall use far smaller warheads (damage doesn't scale up like you think) and saturate the target defenses. Simple.

The reason for lots of nukes is that there are different size nukes and you need to be cycling a portion of your nukes in and out of refurbishment centers. It's not like the movies where some future person finds a nuke laying around for hundreds of years and they magically work. Fuses, electricals, sensors, tritium, fiddly bits all need to be serviced and upgraded constantly. Thus dropping the nuclear arsenal past a point is bad-think. MAD does work against nation-states.

Will said...

I would be leery of data that is from wikipedia, as they certainly have an ideology that makes it of questionable veracity.

Relative to the total capacity of those weapons, the earth's surface would seem to be rather large. In addition, I would not expect a large percentage to be used at once, if ever. Lots of factors involved in whether they would even function at this point for most all that exist.
Of all the nuc powers, China is the most obvious to think they could get away with launching and expect to survive. For this reason, I would be informing them that the entire warhead count is aimed at them, over the entire nation, not just at a few cities.

Bibliotheca Servare said...

Additionally, those nukes are not fat man or little boy style "messy" bombs. They're modern, incredibly low fallout (for a nuke) "clean" nuclear weapons. The radiation contamination produced is much less severe than the nukes that would have been used when most of the alarmist, pseudoscientific "nuclear winter" studies/papers/propaganda pieces were written. At least *our* nukes can be described that way. Iran's probably won't be as advanced, I can't speak for Pakistan and India...I suspect China's are on par, if not literally identical, to ours.

Chip Anderson said...

I think the dangers are overwrought, after all here is a pretty video of a couple of thousand detonations around the world.

PapaMAS said...

One other thing to consider is not how WE view nuclear war, but, what other nations think about it. I remember reading about what other nations thought of our victory in the Gulf War. I think it was the top general in India said what he learned from the Gulf War is not to go to war against the US unless you have nukes and are willing to use them. To some, they are just another component of their arsenal.

We still need to have overwhelming force, whatever that right number is. More importantly, we need the will to use them.

Aesop said...

"Nuclear fallout would circle the globe, riding the winds of the high altitudes. It would pollute farmland, preventing food crops from growing; it would cause literally billions of deaths and/or cases of radiation sickness; it would devastate economies, nations, alliances and continents. Throw in similar numbers of warheads being used by our enemies against us, and you might as well write off the planet Earth and the human race altogether."

Sorry, but no, not even close.
It would suck to live within a few miles of a missile silo or nuke base, especially downwind, but that's about the limit of it. Folks may have noticed that neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki today are nuclear deserts, nor were so even in 1950.
The entire Southern Hemisphere would go on largely unaffected, forever, even in a maximum exchange. [Hint: that's over 1/3rd of the world's landmass, right there. And most of the Northern Hemisphere would be similarly unscathed.]

As noted by other commenters, "nuclear winter" is in the same oxymoronic categories as "global warming" and "population bomb" for degree of unlikeliness, based on bastardized science and mathematics best explained by Michael Crichton in the always-worth-reading essay "Aliens Cause Global Warming".

Don't pass off deliberate agitprop misinformation, hysterical superstition, and outright delusion as if it was scientific fact. It never works out the way you thought.
"The Day After" was commie-funded anti-nuke doom porn, not reality. A nuclear exchange would be very, very bad.
But it would barely scratch the surface of "life on earth" in the long run. said...

I think your readers agree that nuke war is Not A Good Thing... but how do the Mandarins feel about it, with suvh a weakling in the White House? THAT'S the problem....