JHI on the Issues 2016: Did New START Decrease Nuclear Weapons?

Candidate Statement: At the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton listed her policy successes by citing that she “negotiated a treaty with Russia to lower nuclear weapons.” Donald Trump responded to this claim by saying, “she talks tough against Russia, but our nuclear program has fallen way behind and they have gone wild with their nuclear program…Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear and we are old and tired and exhausted in terms of nuclear.”

Summary: The facts largely support Trump’s version of nuclear negotiations with Russia.  The Congressional Research Service has reported that Russia has increased its deployed nuclear weapons from 1,537 warheads to 1,735 warheads.  By contrast, the U.S. has reduced its nuclear capability across the board so that Russia now has 110 more weapons.  Russia has further exploited loopholes in the treaty to increase its weapon numbers. This puts the U.S. at a security disadvantage vis-à-vis Russia—one that the State Department has failed to note in its annual reports of the treaty.

Talking Points:

  • Russia has actually increased its deployed nuclear weapons from 1,537 warheads to 1,735. The number of deployed strategic warheads outnumbers the U.S. by 110.
  • America is not countering the forces challenging international peace and security sufficiently in either conventional or nuclear terms.
  • Some signs suggest Russia is preparing for the possibility of a conflict with the West that could entail nuclear use in a first-strike mode.  We are not modernizing our forces or making clear what the costs to Russia, China, or North Korea would be if they were to use their nuclear capability.
  • A plan for deterring nuclear adversaries is outlined in JHI’s book Choosing to Lead.


  • Apart from the fact that Russia is increasing the number of its forces, it is also modernizing them and MIRVing them, i.e. placing multiple independent reentry vehicles upon them.  As we have long argued, MIRVs are inherently destabilizing systems.
  • Moscow is not only increasing the number and improving the quality of its weapons, it is also developing new weapons of a hypersonic nature that are targeted upon both counter-force (purely military) targets and counter-value (civilian targets). 
  • Russia’s military doctrine has reanimated the Soviet era strategy of using nuclear weapons to de-escalate a conflict. Escalation for de-escalation is a form of nuclear first-use in the midst of conventional conflict.  First-strike weapons can be tactical nuclear weapons about which Moscow refuses to negotiate, or even longer-strike ICBMs or SLBMs.
  • Russia refuses to participate in any further negotiations towards reducing arms, and by 2018, given current procurement, will have reached the numerical limits of the START treaty and may well exercise its option to withdraw from it at that time.
  • Russia has violated every single arms control treaty except the START treaty.  It has unilaterally suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, broken the INF (Intermediate nuclear forces in Europe) treaty, abrogated the Vienna note on conventional exercises, attacked and annexed states with whom it had treaties agreeing to that state’s integrity and security. 
  • Its legislation claims a right to intervene anywhere Russian honor and dignity is being violated.
  • Meanwhile the Obama administration not only is toying with a unilateral declaration of no first use, it is trying to renege on earlier promises to fund nuclear modernization, which is urgently needed.  These policies have caused allies to go public in their alarm over the potential consequences at a time of Russian and Chinese improvements in numbers and quality to their nuclear arsenals and North Korea’s unchecked nuclearization.

Questions the Press should be Asking:

  • Is Secretary Clinton concerned that Russia now has more warheads than the United States and shows no signs of reversing course?  
  • To what degree will Secretary Clinton support nuclear modernization and how she will respond to Russian, Chinese, North Korean, and other nuclear threats? 
  • The recent decisions of the Warsaw summit do not deter Russia so much as place a tripwire in Europe.  But those forces remain inferior to what Moscow brings to the table, a country that is clearly making nuclear threats that go unanswered.  How could NATO be reformed to meet this threat?
  • How will Secretary Clinton's policy toward Russia, including on arms control issues, differ from that of President Obama?