Nuclear Posture Review
April 7, 2010
Q1: Why a Nuclear Posture Review now?
A1: Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. presidents have been grappling with the implications of a drastically changed security environment. Congress mandated that the Defense Department complete a review of the roles and missions of nuclear forces, and the first one appeared in 1994 under the Clinton administration. The Bush administration’s review was completed in 2001. This latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was mandated by Congress in 2008. It acknowledges that nuclear weapons play a narrower role in U.S. national security strategy than in the past and seeks to widen the role of conventional elements of deterrence. It concludes that thousands of nuclear weapons have little relevance in meeting the most pressing security challenges facing the United States today—nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Q2: Is this review a radical departure from previous reviews?
A2: No. The review does not call for a no-first-use policy, nor for deep, quick reductions of strategic nuclear weapons, either unilaterally or in tandem with Russia. The strategic nuclear triad (warheads delivered by submarines, missiles, and bombers) is intact and will probably remain so for decades unless much deeper cuts are made. Allies will continue to rely on U.S. extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear “umbrella.” The safety, security, and reliability of the existing arsenal will be maintained. Lastly, the review does not close off the possibility that U.S. nuclear weapons might be used to respond to nonnuclear attacks, although it limits those circumstances. A few changes are significant, however. Among other things, the United States will not develop new warheads, and life-extension programs will not support new military missions or capabilities. Stockpile stewardship investments will allow major reductions in warheads held in reserve. The review explicitly strengthens assurances to nonnuclear weapon states that comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against them.
Q3: What is the domestic and international impact of this NPR at this time?
A3: This review was necessary to determine force levels under the new START agreement, which will be signed on April 8 in Prague. It would be hard to convince the Senate to ratify that treaty without a clear framework for nuclear policy for the next decade. Likewise, this NPR will be crucial to administration efforts to get a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified by the Senate at some point in the future. Stockpile stewardship measures will be critical to that debate. Internationally, this NPR will be closely scrutinized as an indication of U.S. commitment to its disarmament obligations under the NPT, as state parties meet in May in New York to review that treaty’s implementation. Disarmament progress is considered crucial by many to gain support for stronger nonproliferation measures.
Sharon Squassoni is a senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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