Glad to see the Biden Administration resuming the Obama-era practice of being transparent about the size of the US nuclear stockpile. A thread.
Funny story. George W. Bush dramatically reduced the size of the nuclear stockpile -- but never took credit for it because the stockpile size was secret. He cut the stockpile in half and then by a further 15 percent.
Bush's record on reducing the size of the US nuclear stockpile is excellent. But no one knew it. There were even stories that he had slowed the pace of dismantlement, stories that turned out to be false. The moral to the story is that doing the right thing isn't always enough.
Which brings me to my point: Why declassify the stockpile number when the Russia and China won't do the same? Precisely because Russia and China won't! It's good to make it clear around the world, especially to our allies, that the US is not the same as Russia or China.
Extended deterrence is a strange game. We have to demonstrate to our allies that we'll come to their defense, but we also have to persuade allied populations that they aren't just hostages to our great power games. That's trickier than most people in DC think.
There was an old joke that Germans worried on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that the US wouldn't use nuclear weapons to defend them. During the rest of the week, they worried we would!
The other version is that the United States was prepared to defend Europe ... down to the last German. You get the idea. Great power competition is much more appealing as board game when you aren't one of the pieces.
This was the challenge that Michael Howard framed as deterrence and reassurance. Deterring the Soviets was one thing, reassuring the Europeans that we weren't going to get them all killed was another. And we needed to to do both.
This problem is tougher today. In the Cold War, conservatives were staunchly anti-Soviet and, therefore, tolerably Atlanticist. Today? The gravity of support for the transatlantic alliance is located on the center-left of the political debate. Today's far-right types love Putin.
In Germany, a viable Transatlantic partnership depends on center-left parties like the Greens, rather than the far-right AfD. That's pretty wild when you think about the Cold War -- or even remember the opening to Red Dawn.
The people who we can reasonably persuade to support a strong NATO today against Russia are also pretty skeptical of a renewed Cold War or arms race. They're looking for more in the way of reassurance than deterrence.
One of the things I didn't like about the Obama Administration's approach to disarmament was how it emphasized P5 diplomacy -- basically signaling that our interests were more closely aligned with other nuclear weapons states like Russia than with our non-nuclear allies.
This always stuck me as a huge mistake. Why help Russia shield its nuclear weapons programs from scrutiny at a time when it was undermining European security by invading its neighbors, violating the INF treaty and generally being a menace? Is the smoked fish in Moscow worth it?
Transparency and good-faith efforts to reduce nuclear dangers are an important part of a reassurance strategy to mobilize opposition in Europe to Russia's crazy nuclear programs like the doomsday torpedo, the nuclear-powered cruise missile, and so on.
Releasing the size of the stockpile is a small but helpful part of that; a way to illustrate that we're different. All of which is to say to the USG: Good job! I fully expected you to shoot yourself in the foot -- and you proved me wrong.

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More from @ArmsControlWonk

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