Why Obama's Disclosing the Nuclear Stockpile Secret

The government's decision to release the size of the nuclear stockpile is an important milestone in the history of nonproliferation. It is more than a symbolic gesture because the U.S.'s refusal to acknowledge the number of weapons it has has been regularly given as an excuse for why other countries aren't fulfilling their international obligations. (Update: 10-05-03_Fact Sheet_US Nuclear Transparency _FINAL.PDF)

The reality is that the U.S. stockpile now is smaller than its been since the Eisenhower
administration. That fact alone is an important demonstration of the United States'
commitment over a long period of time to reducing its stockpile, something that is required by the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty's Article Six. 

Problem is, the U.S. has claimed to be reducing its stockpile since the end of the Cold War, but it hasn't been able to back up its claims because the intelligence community refused to declassify details about the stockpile. For example, the U.S. can say that it's dismantling weapons at an increasing rate, but it can't say what the rate is, or what the final number would be

During the administration's internal debate about the Nuclear Posture Review, there was a near consensus to disclose it then and there. At the last minute, the intelligence community asked for more time to study the ramifications of its release, and the National Security Staff decided not to object.  The fault lines remain, but the N.S.S. believes that disclosure is warranted. (This is one reason why the administration leaked news of the decision early...they wanted to ratify the decision in the press before the IC could object.)

As The New York Times reports today, the IC was specifically worried that by acknowledging the size of stockpile, terrorists and nuke-seeking countries could extrapolate critical data. As the Times helpfully points out, the data is ubiquitous. In case that's not clear enough, the Times actually provides the data.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Politics

Just In