Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons - Complete Report of 2007 Hoover Institution Conference

Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons - Complete Report of 2007 Hoover Institution Conference

by George P. Shultz
Drawn from presentations made at the Hoover Institution's October 2007 conference, this collection of essays examines the practical steps necessary to address the current security challenges of nuclear weapons and to move toward the Reykjavik goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons. The distinguished group of contributors includes former officials of the past six


Drawn from presentations made at the Hoover Institution's October 2007 conference, this collection of essays examines the practical steps necessary to address the current security challenges of nuclear weapons and to move toward the Reykjavik goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons. The distinguished group of contributors includes former officials of the past six administrations—Republican and Democratic—along with senior scholar and scientific experts on nuclear issues.

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Reykjavik Revisited

Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

By George P. Shultz, Steven P. Andreasen, Sidney D. Drell, James E. Goodby

Hoover Institution Press

Copyright © 2008 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8179-4923-5


Further Reductions in Nuclear Forces

David Holloway

I have benefited enormously, in the writing of this paper, from discussions with Sidney Drell, James Goodby, and Edward Ifft. I am very grateful to Steve Andreasen, Bruce Blair, Malcolm Chalmers, Robert Einhorn, the late W. K. H. Panofsky, and Joan Rohlfing for comments on earlier drafts of the paper.


The United States and Russia have about 95 percent of all nuclear warheads. There is scope for further immediate reductions. Recent doctrinal statements by the United States and Russia suggest (i) that it should be possible to make substantial reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, and (ii) that there is no reason why their strategic nuclear forces should be "operationally deployed."

The paper sets out four stages in the reduction of nuclear weapons to very low levels. Three criteria are used to assess those stages: strategic stability; monitoring and verification; contribution to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

The reductions outlined here start with a feasible option (stage one) and end with a conceivable one (stage four). In stage one the United States and Russia could reduce the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1000. That number could be inserted into the Moscow Treaty in place of the current target of 1700–2200. The parts of the START Treaty that are relevant to verification and monitoring should be maintained in one form or another beyond December 2009. An additional undefined number of warheads would remain in a responsive force.

In stage two the United States and Russia would each retain 500 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads plus 500 more in the responsive force. Stage three would be more radical, limiting the two countries to a strategic nuclear force with 500 warheads, all in a reserve force with zero operationally deployed.

Sooner rather than later, the other nuclear powers will need to be brought into the process of disarmament. Three commitments will be required from them: not to increase their nuclear forces; to agree to greater transparency; and not to have their nuclear forces operationally deployed.

Given the diminishing distinction between strategic and non-strategic weapons as numbers decrease, a conceivable stage four would be a configuration in which no state in the world has more than 500 (or 200 in a variant) nuclear warheads of any type with zero operationally deployed. As reductions are made, strategic stability becomes more complicated, while verification and monitoring become more difficult.

Reductions are complementary to other approaches; compared with de-alerting, they have the advantage, as long as the warheads are disassembled, of irreversibility. Missile defenses could be accommodated within the process of disarmament only if they were pursued cooperatively.

Some thoughts are offered on the transition to a world with no nuclear weapons.


The number of nuclear warheads in the world reached its peak of about 70,000 in 1986, the year of the Reykjavik summit meeting. There has been a significant reduction since then, but the current total of over 20,000 is still high. Much remains to be done if the world is to be rid of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are distributed very unevenly. No government publishes detailed information about the numbers of nuclear warheads it possesses. According to careful estimates — which are, however, estimates — Russia now has about 15,000 nuclear warheads; the United States, 10,000; France, 350; and Britain and China about 200 each. The other nuclear weapons states — Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea — have smaller stockpiles, amounting to a total of about 200–350 warheads.

These figures apparently include all nuclear warheads, those intended for deployment on long-range as well as short-range delivery vehicles. Not all of these nuclear warheads are deployed with armed forces. Some indeed are due to be disassembled in the coming years, but plans for disassembly have not been made public.

This paper takes as given — and desirable — the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In that context it asks how the nuclear forces of all states that possess them could be substantially reduced. It looks first at the reduction of the strategic nuclear weapons of the United States and Russia and then asks how reductions in nuclear forces might be phased to involve all states that possess nuclear weapons. To what extent, and when, will these reductions require coordinated action and/or negotiated agreements? What arrangements for monitoring and verification need to be created to support such reductions? Finally it considers the steps that need to be taken to move from substantial reductions to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Current Plans for Reductions

The United States and Russia are committed to reducing the number of their strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 by December 31, 2012, under the terms of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which was signed in Moscow by Presidents Bush and Putin in May 2002. On July 3, 2007, Secretary of State Rice and Foreign Minister Lavrov issued a joint statement: "The United States and Russia reiterate their intention to carry out strategic offensive reductions to the lowest possible level consistent with their national security requirements and alliance commitments." This may — or may not — imply that further reductions are to be expected once the Moscow Treaty targets have been reached.

In its 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. Department of Defense drew a distinction between "operationally deployed nuclear forces" and "responsive nuclear forces." It defined the former as those "required to meet the U.S. defense goals in the context of immediate, and unexpected contingencies." In other words, "a sufficient number of forces must be available on short notice to counter known threats while preserving a small, additional margin in the event of a surprise development." "Responsive forces," on the other hand, are "intended to provide a capability to augment the operationally deployed force to meet potential contingencies." The responsive force — essentially a reserve force — is intended to enable the United States to increase the number of operationally deployed forces in a crisis. "A responsive force," according to the Nuclear Posture Review, "need not be available in a matter of days, but in weeks, months, or even years. For example, additional bombs could be brought out of the non-deployed stockpile in days or weeks. By contrast, adding additional weapons to the ICBM force could take as long as a year for a squadron in a wing."

In the Moscow Treaty the United States made the commitment to reduce its "operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads" to 1700–2200 by the end of 2012. In the course of the negotiations, it defined "operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads" as:

Reentry vehicles on ICBMs in their launchers, reentry vehicles on SLBMs in their launchers onboard submarines, and nuclear armaments loaded on heavy bombers or stored in weapons storage areas of heavy bomber bases. The United States also made clear that a small number of spare strategic nuclear warheads (including spare ICBM warheads) would be located at heavy bomber bases and that the United States would not consider these warheads to be operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads.

Secretary of State Powell pointed out in Senate hearings that "this is a departure from the way in which warheads are counted under the START Treaty, but one that more accurately represents the real number of warheads available for use immediately or within days." The START Treaty contains counting rules that attribute specific numbers of warheads to each type of ICBM, SLBM, or heavy bomber, regardless of the actual number of warheads on the missile or bomber. These numbers may be different from both the actual capacity of the specific system and the number actually carried by the system.

Under the Moscow Treaty, a warhead is counted if it is mated with a missile or loaded on a bomber or stored at a bomber site. According to Powell, the United States and Russia did not agree on a detailed definition of "operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads" during the SORT negotiations, but Russia too is committed to the goal of reducing its strategic nuclear warheads to the level of 1700–2200 by December 2012. As further cuts are made, agreement will be needed on the precise definition of "operationally deployed" and "responsive" strategic nuclear warheads.

The Moscow Treaty does not make explicit reference to verification, but the verification regime of the START Treaty will remain in effect at least until December 2009, when the Treaty expires. In his letter transmitting the Moscow Treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification in July 2002, President Bush wrote:

It is important for there to be sufficient openness so that the United States and Russia can each be confident that the other is fulfilling its reductions commitment. The Parties will use the comprehensive verification regime of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the "START Treaty") to provide the foundation for confidence, transparency, and predictability in further strategic offensive reductions.

In July 2007 Secretary of State Rice and Foreign Minister Lavrov announced that they had "discussed development of a post-START arrangement to provide continuity and predictability regarding strategic offensive forces."

On July 1, 2007, according to information exchanged by the two countries under the terms of the START Treaty, the United States had 550 ICBMs, 432 SLBMs, and 243 heavy bombers, while Russia had 509 ICBMs, 288 SLBMs, and 78 heavy bombers. Under the START counting rules, the United States had 5914 strategic nuclear warheads and Russia had 4237. According to the estimates of Norris and Kristensen, however, the real numbers for early 2007 were 5236 deployed strategic nuclear warheads (including 215 spares) for the United States, while Russia had 3340 deployed strategic warheads. These latter figures are based on the counting rule outlined by Powell in the statement quoted above.

The START counting rules make the Treaty easier to monitor because the number of deployed warheads is a function of the number of delivery vehicles, but those counting rules also open up the possibility of a discrepancy between the number of warheads counted and the number actually deployed. For that reason, the Powell rule is more appropriate for counting nuclear warheads as nuclear forces are reduced, since discrepancies between counted and deployed warheads are likely to have greater significance at lower levels of forces.

The Moscow Treaty is innovative in a number of ways. It focuses exclusively on warheads, rather than on launchers, as SALT did, or on launchers and warheads, as START did. It does not define sub-ceilings for different categories of forces; each side can decide on the composition of its own strategic forces. The Treaty contains no limitations on responsive or inactive forces, even on those that could be made operational in a relatively short time. That is not a matter of great consequence at the levels stipulated in the Moscow Treaty, but it will become more significant when substantial reductions are considered.

The Moscow Treaty is conservative in its goals. A much more radical approach is needed if the world is to be rid of nuclear weapons. Several options for substantial reductions are examined below. The United States and Russia between them possess about 95 percent of all nuclear weapons, so that is where reductions should start. These two countries could reduce their strategic forces substantially before needing to bring the other nuclear powers into the process of disarmament.

The Political and Doctrinal Context for Substantial Force Reductions

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist rule transformed the political and strategic relationship between the United States and Russia. Neither country now regards the other as posing a fundamental threat to its existence. In a Joint Statement issued on November 13, 2001, Presidents Bush and Putin declared: "The United States and Russia have overcome the legacy of the Cold War. Neither country regards the other as an enemy or threat." Relations have worsened since then, but this deterioration does not presage a new cold war. There are serious conflicts of interest, but the fundamental enmity of the Cold War years is missing. An intentional nuclear war between the two countries is out of the question. As President Bush said on October 23, 2007, "Russia is not our enemy. ... We no longer worry about a massive Soviet first strike."

Neither country now regards the other as an imminent nuclear threat, or as the main source of nuclear danger. The 2001 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review declared that a nuclear strike contingency involving Russia "while plausible, is not expected." In 2003 the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that global nuclear war and large-scale conventional wars with NATO or any other American-led coalition had been excluded from the category of likely conflicts for which the Armed Forces had to plan and prepare.

Neither the United States nor Russia, however, is ready to dismiss completely the danger of a nuclear threat arising from the other in the future. According to the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, "Russia's nuclear forces and programs ... remain a concern. Russia faces many strategic problems around its periphery and its future course cannot be charted with certainty. U.S. planning must take this into account." For their part, many Russians fear that the United States is seeking, and perhaps actually acquiring, the ability to deliver a disarming first strike against Russia. As the current controversy over the deployment of elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe shows, Russia is determined to retain the capacity to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.

Both countries remain committed to the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence. The 2000 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, for example, states that Russia must possess nuclear forces capable of inflicting assured destruction on an aggressor in any conditions. The U.S. Department of Defense's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review refers to the:

U.S. deterrence policy to hold at risk what opponents value, including their instruments of political control and military power, and to deny opponents their war aims. The types of targets to be held at risk for deterrence purposes include leadership and military capabilities, particularly WMD, military command facilities and other centers of control and infrastructure that support military forces.

This continuing commitment to deterrence is important, because deterrence has its own requirements, which need to be taken into account when considering reductions in strategic nuclear forces.

Both the United States and Russia see themselves as facing new nuclear threats for which deterrence is not necessarily the appropriate policy. The Bush administration, in its National Security Strategy of September 2002, claimed that deterrence could no longer play the role it had played in the Cold War and asserted its willingness to use force against "rogue states" and terrorist groups to prevent them from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Russia too has begun to argue that deterrence is not an appropriate response to all threats and to stress the importance of using force preventively in certain circumstances. In the words of the 2006 Russian White Paper on Nonproliferation,

For the foreseeable future, the greatest threat faced by Russia and other states in the area of nonproliferation will emanate from the possible use by terrorists of some type of WMD. While the value of the doctrine of deterrence will remain as it relates to countries with WMD capabilities, where terrorists are concerned it will obviously not apply.

Nuclear deterrence remains an important element in the policies of both the United States and Russia, but it no longer enjoys the central position it occupied during the Cold War. In particular, neither country regards it as the most effective instrument for dealing with the most urgent nuclear threats.

This changed context suggests two conclusions. First, even within the framework of nuclear deterrence it should be possible for the two countries to make further substantial reductions in strategic nuclear forces. Nuclear deterrence today, in the context of U.S.-Russian relations, hardly requires "operationally deployed nuclear forces" consisting of thousands of warheads. Drell and Goodby argue that, if both Russia and the United States were to reduce the number of their strategic nuclear warheads to a total of 1000 (half operationally deployed and half in the responsive force), the United States would be able to keep at risk 200–300 Russian military and military-support targets, and that that would be sufficient for deterrence. A similar point could be made about Russian policy vis-á-vis the United States.


Excerpted from Reykjavik Revisited by George P. Shultz, Steven P. Andreasen, Sidney D. Drell, James E. Goodby. Copyright © 2008 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

George P. Shultz, the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution, served as U.S. secretary of state under Ronald Reagan. Steven P. Andreasen served as Director of Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and in the Department of State during the George H. W. Bush and Reagan administrations. He is a national security consultant and lectures at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Sidney D. Drell is a senior fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution and professor of theoretical physics (emeritus) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. James E. Goodby is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior fellow with the Center for Northeast Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

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