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Nuclear policy

The 2022 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) sets out the current nuclear policies of the US Administration. An unclassified version of the NPR is still awaited but it is thought to place greater reliance on disarmament and US leadership on arms control than the previous NPR led by the Trump administration. 

Nuclear capabilities 

Despite considerable progress in bilateral arms control since the 1970s, the United States still deploys an extensive nuclear force and is in the process of modernising and replacing its nuclear capabilities.

  • As of January 2022, the total US nuclear stockpile was estimated at 5,428 warheads. Of those 3,708 are operational (strategic and non-strategic). A further 1,720 warheads are awaiting dismantlement.
  • Under the US-Russian New START treaty, the number of deployed strategic warheads must not exceed 1,550. New START was extended in February 2021 for a further five years.
  • Non-strategic warheads are not currently subject to any arms control limitations.
  • US forces are organised on the nuclear triad principle.
  • A portion of nuclear forces are maintained on day-to-day alert and the US adopts the practice of open ocean targeting of its strategic nuclear forces.
  • The US retains a first-use option.

Modernisation programme 

The US is undertaking an extensive modernisation programme across every element of the nuclear triad. The US nuclear programme is estimated to cost $634 billion over the next decade, of which $188 billion will be spent on weapons modernisation. In 2017, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the US modernisation programme would cost at least $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years.

This short paper is intended as an introduction to the United States’ nuclear weapons policies and programmes. It is part of a series of country profiles which are available on the House of Commons Library website.

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