At the end of the Cold War in 1991  President Bush promised to eliminate tactical nuclear weapons at sea.  Whether this was totally accomplished is unclear since there were loopholes in the promise.

During the Cold War, U.S. naval warships regularly sailed the seas with nuclear weapons and routinely violated non-nuclear countries' bans against nuclear weapons. According to the Federation of American Scientists, there were as many as 6,191 weapons on surface ships during the Cold War.

Now it seems clear that Trump has reversed that policy.   He has deployed a tactical nuclear ballistic missile at sea.  He is now moving to deploy tactical nuclear cruise missiles.

America's deployment of these weapons creates a huge incentive for China to strike first with its own nuclear weapons to make sure they knock out U.S. carriers.


At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. took steps to decrease  the number of tactical nuclear weapons on U.S.  ships.

This did not affect America's huge strategic nuclear arsenal of ballistic missile submarines.

President George H.W. Bush initiated this commitment, collectively known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs).

"By pledging to end foreign deployments of entire categories of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, Bush hoped that leaders in Moscow would follow suit; and they did, at least in part." (

"In Sept. 27, 1991, Bush announced a raft of unilateral initiatives to limit and reduce the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons arsenal. Specifically, he pledged to: withdraw to the United States all ground-launched short-range weapons deployed overseas and destroy them along with existing U.S. stockpiles of the same weapons; and cease deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft during “normal circumstances.” Implicitly, the United States reserved the right to redeploy these arms in a crisis." (

However, according to the Federation of American Scientists, there are an estimated 1,000 nuclear warheads afloat at sea today on American naval ships. This is less than what naval surface ships carried around during the Cold War, but still a greater number than the stockpiles of Britain, China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea combined.

Not many people today are aware of this, but the Pentagon has now declassified how many nuclear weapons they actually deployed in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. You can read the report here.

The declassified documents show that the United States during much of the 1970s and 1980s deployed about a quarter of its entire nuclear weapons stockpile at sea.

"The declassified numbers end in 1991 with the offloading of non-strategic naval nuclear weapons from US Navy vessels. After that only strategic missile submarines (SSBNs) have continued to deploy with nuclear weapons onboard. Those numbers are still secret." (Federation of American Scientists, 2-3-16)

So this whole situation isn't just relevant to the Cold War.

"Thousands of nuclear weapons are still operationally deployed on ballistic missile submarines, on land-based ballistic missiles, and on bomber bases. And not just in the United States but also in Britain, France, and Russia. Some of those deployed weapons will have accidents in the future. (See here for the most recent.)" (Federation of American Scientists, 2-3-16)

"Moreover, growing tensions with Russia and China now make some ask if the United States needs to increase the role of its nuclear weapons and once again equip aircraft carriers with the capability to deliver nuclear bombs and once again develop and deploy nuclear land-attack sea-launched cruise missiles on attack submarines." (Federation of American Scientists, 2-3-16)

Clearly there is a need for arms control here.  Russia, China and America need to move away from a nuclear hair trigger.


Declassified: US nuclear weapons at sea during the Cold War (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, PDF)


The U.S. Military Will Soon Have a New 'Nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile' (The National Interest, 9-7-20)

Tactical Nuke Deployed on US Sub

The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) on Tactical Nuclear Weapons at a Glance (Arms Control Association, July 2017)

Declassified: US Nuclear Weapons At Sea (Federation of American Scientists, 2-3-16)