Are we moving toward zero nuclear weapons? Zero is the declared objective of the Obama administration. But it is realistic enough to recognize, as the president did in Prague, that achieving it might take a long time: “I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly–perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence.

But could we now be moving toward zero ahead of schedule? The General Accounting Office reports that a key ingredient of nuclear weapons—tritium—is in short supply. As investment in maintaining our nuclear stockpile has dwindled, some of our production and maintenances abilities have withered. The National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), the agency in charge, is floundering. According to the GAO, “NNSA has been unable to solve the technical challenges it has been experiencing producing tritium. “ This in turn means that the agency’s failures have raised “serious questions” about its “ability to provide a reliable source of tritium to maintain the nation's nuclear stockpile in the future.”

As Congress heads toward a vote on the new START agreement, it would do well to consider if we are tilting toward zero nuclear weapons not by design, and not with the president’s pledge of “patience and persistence,” but by happenstance.

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