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June 2, 2022
Smarter Options on U.S. Nuclear Modernization
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Monday, May 17, 2021
2:00 - 3:30pm Eastern time

The debate about how the United States should approach nuclear modernization is once again a hot topic in Washington ahead of the imminent release of the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request and as the administration prepares to begin a more comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear policy.

The United States is planning to spend at least $1.5 trillion over the next several decades to maintain and upgrade its nuclear arsenal. The biggest bills for this effort are slated to hit over the next 10 to 15 years and poised to pose a growing challenge to other security and military priorities amid what most experts believe will be flat defense budgets over the next several years.

Competing demands such as combatting climate change and strengthening pandemic defense and response capabilities illustrate the importance of examining more cost-effective alternatives to sustaining the arsenal while ensuring a strong deterrent, enhancing stability, and pursuing additional arms control measures.

While the Trump administration expanded the role of and spending on the arsenal, the Biden administration in its interim national security strategic guidance released in March said: “We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible.”

The Biden administration also quickly agreed with Russia a five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) without conditions and pledged to “pursue new arms control arrangements.”

The expert speakers addressed how the Biden administration should approach the nuclear modernization effort, alternatives to building a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) via the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) and the W87-1 warhead replacement programs, the challenges facing the National Nuclear Security Administration’s warhead and infrastructure modernization plans, and the relationship between nuclear modernization and arms control diplomacy.

Speakers included:

  • Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.)
  • Steve Fetter, associate provost and dean, University of Maryland, and a former assistant director in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Sharon Weiner, associate professor, American University, and a former program examiner with the National Security Division of the White House Office of Management and Budget
  • Amy Woolf, specialist in nuclear weapons policy, Congressional Research Service

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