Do We Have Good Posture?

, Washington representative and senior analyst | April 6, 2010, 4:17 pm EDT
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Mike Nuclear TestToday the Obama administration released its long-awaited, much discussed Nuclear Posture Review. We’ve been working hard to shape the outcome of the review; see for example this open letter to President Obama on The Importance of Transforming U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy we helped organize.

Today we put out a statement, Obama Administration Sets New Course for Post-Cold War Nuclear Weapons Policy, on the outcome. Overall, it is a positive document that does far more than any previous review to recognize the changed world. The administration includes carry-overs from the previous regime like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and head of Strategic Command General Chilton, among others, so getting a document that is somewhat of a mixed bag isn’t surprising.

Items in the bag:

  • We believe the administration can and should declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. They said they would like to be able to say that some day, but can’t yet. They do, however, take an important step in the right direction by making US negative security assurances unambiguous.
  • We believe they should say the United States could get by quite happily with hundreds rather than thousands of nuclear warheads. They said, right now we can go to 1,550 warheads as counted by the New START agreement, and that’s about all we could cut.
  • We believe they should rule out developing and deploying new warheads. They agreed on one hand, but with the other opened the door to that possibility by saying, if the President authorizes it, they could essentially replace an existing warheads with all new components. This could lead to significantly changed weapons, which could actually threaten reliability while undermining our goal of encouraging other countries to abandon their nuclear ambitions.
  • We believe they should take significant steps to increase the time the president has to decide whether to launch a nuclear attack—primarily by increasing our ability to survive a nuclear attack, and moving toward removing weapons from rapid-launch alert. They talk about the former, and we need to work through what they say, but they pretty much outright reject the latter.

Bottom line: we’re starting to leave our Neanderthal-like nuclear war-fighting crouch, but we haven’t quite assumed the standing-tall, statesman posture that our security desperately calls for.

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