The Obama administration's consideration of severe cuts in nuclear weapons generated a flurry of GOP criticism — "reckless lunacy" in the words of Arizona Rep. Trent Franks. But the historical record shows that in the two decades since the Cold War ended, Republicans have been the boldest cutters of the nuclear arsenal.
"Republican presidents seem to have a thing for 50 percent nuclear reductions," said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear-arms specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, a think tank founded by many of the scientists who built the first atomic bombs.
For example, on President George H.W. Bush's watch, the number of deployed weapons as well as those held in reserve was nearly cut in half, from 22,217 to 13,708 warheads, according to official U.S. government figures. The number of deployed strategic warheads dropped from 12,300 to 7,114 in that same period, by Mr. Kristensen's calculations.
As part of that move, made as fears of a nuclear Armageddon at the Cold War's end were diminishing, the Republican president announced in September 1991 that he unilaterally was retiring all ground-based U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe and South Korea and removing all nuclear weapons from U.S. naval surface ships.
Submarines remain armed with nuclear missiles as part of a "triad" of land-, air- and sea-based weapons that is the enduring core of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
President George W. Bush went further, cutting the total stockpile by 50 percent, from 10,526 to 5,273 warheads. By Mr. Kristensen's count, the number of deployed warheads fell to 1,968 by the time Mr. Bush left office in January 2009.
In his two terms, Democratic President Bill Clinton trimmed just a little more than 2,000 warheads from the stockpile.
No commander in chief, however, ever cut the nuclear force to as low a number as Mr. Obama might under a set of options that his administration is considering now.
One option is to cut the number of deployed long-range weapons to a range of 1,000 to 1,100; a second would drop it to between 700 and 800; a third is to go down to between 300 and 400.
That compares with the 1,550 warhead limit set by a U.S.-Russia arms pact, known as the New START treaty, which took effect one year ago.
The eye-popping option of cutting to 300 weapons sparked a firestorm of criticism by Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"A 300 number would [mean] the Chinese would have more than we have," Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said Thursday. "I mean, this is a number where anybody that wanted to could build up to that number and be a peer with the United States. The whole point of nuclear deterrent is to have so much and so great a capability that nobody ever messes with you."