The U.S. should back away from updating its obsolescent nuclear weapons, in particular silo-launched missiles that needlessly risk catastrophe

By The Editors, Scientific American

This article is part of “The New Nuclear Age,” a special report on a $1.5-trillion effort to remake the American nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. is planning to modernize its unwanted, unneeded and unsafe nuclear triad of land-, sea- and air-based weapons. Perfectly poised to refight the cold war, these overhauled bombs will waste $1.5 trillion and threaten life on Earth for the century to come. We should rethink this miserable folly rather than once again squandering our wealth while driving a new arms race.

nuclear silo

As detailed in this issue of Scientific American, this plan to burn money while imperiling the world has been widely criticized in nuclear policy circles. “Russia and the United States have already been through one nuclear arms race. We spent trillions of dollars and took incredible risks in a misguided quest for security,” former U.S. defense secretary William J. Perry wrote in 2016 as the plans first materialized. “There is only one way to win an arms race: refuse to run.”

Although the Biden administration canceled proposed Trump-era sea-launched missiles, the U.S. nuclear arsenal still bristles with some 3,700 weapons, around 1,700 of them deployed for military use and the rest in storage overseen by the Department of Energy. This quantity is more than enough to threaten the destruction of humanity and Earth’s biosphere—and it is only a fraction of the world’s total, leaving out Russia’s similarly large stockpile and smaller ones in China and other nations. Lowering the numbers and thus the risks of these weapons is a responsibility the U.S. and the Soviet Union first recognized at the end of the 1960s, and this goal should drive military and political decision-making now.

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