Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Posture Review delayed

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), already postponed until today, has been delayed again as the Obama administration works to come to a final position on key issues. Now expected at the end of March or later, the NPR will be a critical document outlining US nuclear weapons policy for the next 5-10 years, and could put us on a path toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons or serve to stifle progress and maintain an unsustainable status quo.

An excellent New York Times editorial lays out the major decisions being made:

THEIR PURPOSE: Current doctrine gives nuclear weapons a “critical role” in defending the United States and its allies. And it suggests they could be used against foes wielding chemical, biological or even conventional forces — not just nuclear arms. Mr. Obama’s aides have proposed changing that to say that the “primary” purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies. This still invites questions about whether Washington values — and might use — nuclear forces against non-nuclear targets.

A different article in the New York Times points out the different sides of the debate on this issue:

Some leading Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have asked Mr. Obama to declare that the “sole purpose” of the country’s nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack. “We’re under considerable pressure on this one within our own party,” one of Mr. Obama’s national security advisers said recently.

But inside the Pentagon and among many officials in the White House, Mr. Obama has been urged to retain more ambiguous wording — declaring that deterring nuclear attack is the primary purpose of the American arsenal, not the only one.

Sen. Feinstein’s leadership on this issue is important. Nuclear weapons in today’s world are a liability and continuing to maintain a huge arsenal puts us all at risk of accidental launches or weapons falling into the wrong hands. Without pushing to restrict the purpose or role of nuclear weapons, proposals to make additional, significant reductions to our nuclear weapons stockpile will quickly come up against obstacles. The more roles nuclear weapons fill, the easier it is for nuclear hawks to justify maintaining a huge arsenal far into the future.

The editorial also highlights

ALERT LEVELS: The United States and Russia each still have about 1,000 weapons ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Mr. Obama has rightly described this as a dangerous cold war relic. The review should commit to taking as many of those forces off hair-trigger alert as possible — and encourage Russia to do the same.

Check out the editorial to read more about what the upcoming NPR will cover.

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