Inside the Ring

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“We’re going to need nuclear weapons for a while and we’re going to need to make them safer and more secure,” said Steve Henry, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, in summing up the report to Congress on U.S. nuclear strategy.

The report, “National Security and Nuclear Weapons: Maintaining Deterrence for the 21st Century,” is a statement by the secretaries of energy, defense and state.

It stated that “the future security environment is very uncertain, and some trends are not favorable.”

“Rogue states either have or seek weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and the risk of future proliferation cannot be ignored,” the report said. “The future direction that any number of states may take, including some established nuclear powers with aggressive nuclear force modernization programs, could have a dramatic effect on U.S. security and the security of our allies.”

Mr. Henry said Russia and China both are established powers with nuclear buildups under way that need watching and require the United States to keep nuclear weapons ready and to have a system in place, with both people and facilities, that could respond to any potential unsettling strategic imbalances.

On Russia, Mr. Henry said, “You can’t ignore what countries say and their rhetoric, and you can’t ignore what they are doing in practice.”

The Russians are “aggressively modernizing their nuclear forces,” he said, and China is building new strategic nuclear forces and the buildup cannot be ignored.

The United States is “a little bit unsure as to the future of their program,” Mr. Henry said. “Today [China’s program] is much smaller than the U.S. or that of the Russians, but how do you judge what the future may be?”

Mr. Henry also said the United States is worried that al Qaeda and other terrorists will obtain nuclear weapons, specifically getting nuclear material from rogue states, and that U.S. nuclear weapons can be used to deter those states from supplying terrorists with that material. Such states would be “held accountable” if their nuclear material is used in attacks on the United States, he said.

The report said the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea show the need for the United States to provide nuclear guarantees to key allies.

Mr. Henry said the United States is committed to reducing nuclear stockpiles but must maintain capabilities for security.

One of the most important elements of current nuclear arms strategy is developing the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a newer, safer and more reliable warhead that will be fashioned from existing warheads but will be less expensive to maintain, Mr. Henry said.

The report said without the replacement warhead, the ability of the United States to maintain its nuclear deterrent over the long term will be in question.

The United States plans to have a strategic nuclear warhead arsenal of between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012, the report said.

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