Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Obama’s Nuclear Count-Down: What Will the Nuclear Posture Review Yield?

Posted by K.E. White on March 2, 2010

Last fall President Barack Obama rejected the Pentagon’s first Nuclear Posture Review, suggesting that the initial plan was too timid when it came to cutting back America’s nuclear weapons stock-pile.

Six months latter a final posture review seems eminent, though some details remain to be settled.

The New York Times reveals the key sticking point: how far should the United States limit when to use its nuclear weapons?  While some suggest nuclear weapons should only used to deter other nuclear threats, the post-9/11 world has others suggesting it should be used in response to biological or chemical attacks.

But, as pointed out by NYTimes, a third option may leave both sides satisfied:

Mr. Obama’s reliance on new, non-nuclear Prompt Global Strike weapons is bound to be contentious. As described by advocates within the Pentagon and in the military, the new weapons could achieve the effects of a nuclear weapon, without turning a conventional war into a nuclear one. As a result, the administration believes it could create a new form of deterrence — a way to contain countries that possess or hope to develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, without resorting to a nuclear option.

But what are non-nuclear prompt global strike (PGS) weapons?  Walter B. Slocombe and Keith B. Payne offer this informative (and readable) report on the subject, which they presented to Rethinking Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Elements of Deterrence, a 2007 conference.

PGS refer to the “capability to strike any point within an hour of authorization” within a bounded set of targets.  Basically, trade the massively destructive power of a nuclear bomb for the pin-point precision of a non-nuclear missile.

Slocombe and Payne’s paper reviews the topic in depth, and points out some draw-backs of swapping nukes for PGS.  Also, this Arms Control Association 2008 article illustrates past Russian objections to such a program.

But, most pressingly, will trading one type of military superiority (nuclear weapons) for another (tactical missile strikes) really change the incentives countries may feel towards gaining nuclear weapons? If not, fewer U.S. nukes could result in spurring more nations to start nuclear programs.  (But the most likely accelerant to proliferation remains Iran and its continuing nuclear brinkmanship.)

In any case, regardless of the nuclear posture review it should be pointed out Obama has already taken steps to change U.S. nuclear weapons policy.  The Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation illustrates the funding increases the White House has proposed for threat reduction and nonproliferation programs. The biggest winner? The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, funded through the Department of Defense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: