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The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) sets out the current nuclear policies of the US Administration. Deterrence, and not disarmament, is the overriding message of the Trump administration’s NPR. It marks a significant departure from key nuclear policies under the Obama administration that sought to lower the reliance on nuclear weapons and embrace non-proliferation and disarmament.

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 2020, the total US nuclear stockpile was estimated at 5,800 warheads. Of those 3,800 are operational (strategic, non-strategic and reserve), including 1,372 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. A further 2,000 warheads are awaiting dismantlement.
  • Under the US-Russian new START treaty, the number of deployed strategic warheads must not exceed 1,550. New START expires in February 2021, unless an extension to the treaty is agreed.
  • 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.

The US is undertaking an extensive modernisation programme across every element of the nuclear triad. That recapitalisation project is estimated to cost $494 billion over the next decade, and at least $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years.

Under a Biden administration, a return to the nuclear policies of the Obama era is considered likely. President-elect Biden has already questioned the US’ level of “excessive” nuclear spend, which has led many commentators to begin speculating on possible future cuts to the nuclear modernisation programme.

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