However, what critics miss is the political value nuclear weapons present. Military force is merely a means to a political end. Success on the battlefield is irrelevant should our political gains not be fulfilled, and look no further than the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars to see evidence of this fact. Just because nuclear weapons don't afford a commander with increased tactical options in most situations, doesn't mean that a large arsenal is a poor investment.
Despite the costs, America's nuclear arsenal serves as both a deterrent and reassurance. Our nuclear triad ensures that it would be impossible for either China or Russia to destroy America's secondary response capability, for example. But operational effectiveness aside, size partially signals intent. Both allies and adversaries gauge American intent by delving into the force structure of our nuclear forces. No doubt, it is improbable (I'd even say impossible) that Iran or China would doubt American resolve to reciprocate nuclear blows should either decide to launch a salvo of ICBMs at our large cities. However, it is not implausible for both our adversaries and allies to question our commitment to enforce the nuclear umbrella if we begin to dismantle crucial nuclear infrastructure.
Both the Middle East and Pacific are in fragile situations right now. Regardless of if they have an active program or not, Iran's nuclear capabilities are stoking security fears in umbrella covered nations like Saudi Arabia. Both South Korea and Japan fear an increasingly aggressive China and nuclear capable North Korea. All three aforementioned allies sit close to passing the nuclear precipice, which is a product of fears that America's commitment to nuclear assurances may begin to wane. Our response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, which is hardly a close ally, has already brought up questions of American resolve to respond to aggression against Asian nations that rely on us for security. If our allies begin fretting over American action in a nation that holds very little significance to their own security interests, it's very plausible that they will take steps towards proliferation should they see us defund a program deemed vital to their very existence. As Sean Varner noted on American nuclear policy, "Tokyo could be forced to make the least miserable choice out of a list of bad options. Unsure of the U.S. deterrent while Pyongyang and Beijing grow more provocative would be unacceptable." While Saudi Arabia has begun to negotiate nuclear arms deals with Pakistan should Iran develop a nuclear weapon, signaling that the House of Saud already questions our commitments as they stand.
Even during the height of our post-Cold War dominance, Taiwan nearly developed a nuclear weapon because Taipei suspected a lack of American intent to respond if they were ever invaded by China. Today, both Saudi Arabia and Japan have begun to inch closer towards weaponizing their nuclear weapons due to our decline in relative influence globally. Should we begin to alter our nuclear disposition, then allies may be incentivized to develop their own nuclear weapons. Given that we are much less likely to preemptively use nuclear weapons to protect an ally from a perceived threat than they are for themselves, increasing the number of weapons holders would prove to subsequently increase the chances of a nuclear war quite significantly. And aside from that, it puts America in an awkward position when our close allies ignore the stipulations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Therefore, regardless of austerity and battlefield relevancy, America's nuclear arsenal should be here to stay.