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Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal

- July 29, 2016
Is a new arms race brewing?
  • Overview
  • Current Situation
  • Chronology
  • Pro/Con
  • More...
Featured Report

In his first term, President Obama vowed to try to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Now, in his second term, while still hoping for a non-nuclear world, Obama has embarked on a vast plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a step he says is needed to keep the weapons reliable and safe. The effort — aimed at upgrading the nation's launch systems, warheads and the missiles, bombers and submarines that deliver them — could run nearly $350 billion in equipment and operational costs over the next decade and up to $1 trillion by 2050. The move comes amid rising tensions with Russia and China, the world's other top nuclear superpowers, as well as continuing skirmishes between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan and the nuclear ambitions of rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. Advocates of nuclear disarmament say the administration's plan will increase the danger of a nuclear holocaust by encouraging other countries to add to their nuclear stockpiles. But advocates of modernizing the U.S. arsenal say up-to-date and powerful nuclear weapons will discourage hostile nations from attacking the United States.

Russian Saber-Rattling

Some experts say Russia’s tough rhetoric reflects Vladimir Putin’s efforts to regain international respect.

South Asian Arsenals

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is expected to grow much more quickly than India’s.

North Korean Secrecy

Experts are uncertain whether the rogue nation has an arsenal.

New Arms Race?

President Obama has examined several ways for global nuclear-weapons elimination.

1930s–1940sThe atomic bomb is born.
1950s–1960sCold War intensifies arms race.
1970sNew nuclear treaties take effect.
1980s–1990sMore nations acquire nuclear weapons.
2000s–2016North Korea becomes nuclear power.

Should abolishing nuclear weapons be the chief goal of U.S. nuclear policy?


Derek Johnson
Executive Director, Global Zero.


Keith B. Payne
President, National Institute for Public Policy.
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