Nuclear Weapons:

DOD's Plan for Implementing Nuclear Reductions Generally Addresses Statutory Requirements but Lacks Some Detail

GAO-15-89R: Published: Dec 11, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2014.

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Joseph W. Kirschbaum
(202) 512-9971


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What GAO Found

Nuclear weapons have long been a cornerstone of the nation’s defense strategy. These weapons—deployed on strategic delivery systems, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable aircraft—have played an essential role in U.S. policy for deterring potential adversaries and assuring U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America’s security commitments. At the same time, arms control agreements and strategic policies have led the United States to maintain its nuclear deterrent capability with decreasing numbers of weapons and strategic delivery systems. In his April 2009 speech in Prague, the President spoke of the United States’ commitment to seeking a world without nuclear weapons. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report (NPR) outlined the administration’s approach to maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability while pursuing further reductions in nuclear weapons.  The NPR report focused on five key objectives; one of these objectives, maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels, emphasized the importance of bilateral and verifiable reductions in strategic nuclear weapons in coordination with Russia. In support of this objective, the United States signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia—known as New START—on April 8, 2010, which entered into force on February 5, 2011.

Section 1042 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 required the Department of Defense (DOD) to submit a plan to the congressional defense committees, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for implementing the nuclear force reductions, limitations, and verification and transparency measures contained in New START.  In April 2014, DOD submitted a report on its plan to implement New START.

GAO found that DOD’s Section 1042 report addresses or partially addresses the required elements; however, DOD did not include additional detail, including certain information on costs and verification and transparency measures, which would more fully inform congressional decision-makers on the department’s plan for implementing New START.

Why GAO Did This Study

Section 1042 mandates that GAO submit a review of DOD’s plan. This report is a public version of the classified report that GAO is issuing concurrently, and assesses the extent to which DOD’s report includes the elements required by the mandate.

To address our objective, two analysts independently reviewed DOD's April 2014 report on its plan to implement New START—Report on Plan to Implement the Nuclear Force Reductions, Limitations, and Verification and Transparency Measures Contained in the New START Treaty Specified in Section 1042 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012—which contains DOD's strategic force structure plans to comply with the requirements of the treaty.  The two analysts compared the report to the requirements in Section 1042 to determine the extent to which DOD's plan addresses the required elements.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making recommendations in this report.

For more information, contact Joseph Kirschbaum at (202) 512-9971 or

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