One year ago in Prague, President Obama pledged that the Nuclear Posture Review “will put an end to Cold War thinking” and “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”
The Review, which was released today after nearly a year of analysis, outlines many important and valuable steps that the U.S. will take toward that end. “While the Review could have been bolder in some areas, according to Deputy Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Kingston Reif, “it constructively reorients U.S. nuclear policy to reflect the fact that changing technologic, strategic, and geopolitical circumstances have made it possible and essential for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons.”
Overall, the Nuclear Posture Review is a significant improvement over the two previous Nuclear Posture Reviews conducted since the end of the Cold War. “The encouraging steps outlined in the report should not be viewed as the end of the journey toward reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, but they point us in the right direction,” said Executive Director John Isaacs.
On the positive side, the Nuclear Posture Review places preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism atop the U.S. nuclear agenda. It also significantly reduces the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security by stating that the “fundamental” role of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the U.S. and its allies and limiting the circumstances under which the U.S. would contemplate using nuclear weapons. Both of these measures will be helpful in strengthening the U.S. hand at the upcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May. Furthermore, the Review reaffirms that the U.S. will not conduct nuclear explosive tests and rejects the development of new nuclear weapons. The Review also supports further discussions with Moscow on even deeper bilateral reductions in U.S. and Russian arsenals – including non-deployed and non-strategic (i.e. tactical nuclear weapons) – beyond those called for in the New START agreement.
Though the positives significantly outweigh the negatives, the report stops short of saying that the “sole” purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the U.S. and its allies nor does it call for the U.S. to adopt a “no first use” policy. The U.S. does not need nuclear weapons for any other purpose but deterrence. A “sole purpose” and “no first use” declaration would have further strengthened the credibility of the U.S. conventional deterrent and reduced the incentives that other states might have to acquire nuclear weapons to protect themselves from a U.S. first strike.
The Review also does not recommend that the U.S. abandon its current launch on warning or launch under attack posture. Maintaining such a posture increases the chances of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch.