President Barack Obama is expected to use Tuesday's State of the Union address to announce plans to drastically slash the number of nuclear weapons in the nation's arsenal.
The New York Timesreports that Obama has hammered out an agreement with top Pentagon brass that would cut the nation's nuclear arsenal by about a third. The US currently has about 1,700 deployed nuclear warheads, and Obama's vision-- backed by top military commanders-- would likely reduce that number to just over 1,000. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia approved by the Senate in 2009 calls for the US arsenal to shrink to 1,550 nuclear warheads by 2018.
An official involved in the process told the Times that Obama "believes that we can make pretty radical reductions-- and save a lot of money-- without compromising American security in the second term. And the Joint Chiefs have signed off on that concept."
Republican lawmakers could stand in the way of the president's ambitious plan. He will likely seek a way to reach an informal agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin for mutual cuts within the New START framework but without the need for congressional ratification. Obama and Putin will meet twice over the summer.
Obama administration officials have been debating nuclear arms reduction for years. But the president reportedly wanted to avoid the subject, presumably out of fear of appearing "weak on national defense," during the the 2012 presidential election. Republican nominee Mitt Romney had slammed Obama for wanting to work toward a world with less nuclear weapons, while curiously calling Russia America's "number one geostrategic foe" during his own campaign. Leading Republicans also pointed to a 'hot mic' comment Obama made to then-Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in which he said he would have "more flexibility" on missile defense after his reelection as proof that the president was willing to degrade America's defensive capabilities.
Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is one of the leading proponents of a greatly reduced US nuclear arsenal. According to the Times, Gen. Cartwright believes nuclear stockpiles could be reduced to 900 warheads, with only half of those deployed, without any degradation of the nation's nuclear deterrent.
"The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the Cold War," Cartwright said in 2012. "Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century."