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Just how many nuclear weapons does the U.S. have? State Department reveals number

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken speaks at a meeting Tuesday of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.
(Ian Langsdon / Pool Photo)

In a reversal of Trump administration policy, the State Department has revealed the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, a disclosure that it said would aid global efforts to control the spread of such arms.

The number of U.S. nuclear weapons, including those on active status as well as those in long-term storage, stood at 3,750 as of September 2020, the department said Tuesday. That is down from 3,805 a year earlier and 3,785 in 2018.

As recently as 2003, the U.S. nuclear weapon total was slightly above 10,000. It peaked at 31,255 in 1967, in the middle of the Cold War.

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The last time the U.S. government released its stockpile number was in March 2018, when it said the total was 3,822 as of September 2017. That was early in the Trump administration, which subsequently kept updated numbers secret and denied a request by the Federation of American Scientists to declassified them.

Expansion could be scaled back as President-elect Joe Biden and Congress prioritize pandemic and recession problems.

“Back to transparency,” said Hans Kristensen, the director of the federation’s Nuclear Information Project. He said the Biden administration was wise to reverse the previous administration’s policy.

Kristensen said disclosing the stockpile number would assist U.S. diplomats in arms-control negotiations and at next year’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference, which will review the disarmament commitment made by nuclear powers that are treaty signatories, including the U.S.

The Biden administration is conducting a nuclear weapons posture-and-policy review that is expected to be completed early next year.

At the Conference on Disarmament last February, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said: “President Biden has made it clear: The U.S. has a national security imperative and a moral responsibility to reduce and eventually eliminate the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.”


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