Nuclear terrorism and the possibility of a nuclear weapon unleashed in any city present the greatest potential threat to US security, public health and the economy. Current and future US nuclear policy will be presented March 1st when President Obama is scheduled to release the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) as mandated by congress. This follows the recent Quadrennial Review of the Department of Defense strategy and priorities.
The NPR outlines to our allies and the world the US position on the role nuclear weapons play in our security. President Obama has joined bipartisan architects of cold war nuclear and security policy, the so called "gang of four" including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and Former Senator Sam Nunn head of the Senate Arms Services Committee in stating his vision of a world without nuclear weapons in his speech delivered in Prague last April. The NPR formulated in consultation with the Departments of Defense, Energy and State will provide the opportunity to lay out the means of making this critical vision a reality.
The NPR of the Bush Presidency modified our nuclear stance in several critical ways potentially lowering the threshold of nuclear conflict and war. We expanded our nuclear targeted nations from the cold war of Russia alone as part of the former USSR, to the now famous 7 nation "axis of evil". These included Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea. In addition, the concept of preemptive nuclear strike against a nation having or developing WMD including biologic and chemical not just nuclear weapons was proposed. This changed the long-standing Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine of the cold war that warned of devastating nuclear retaliation in the event of nuclear attack upon the US or our allies. Finally, the proposed development of "usable" nuclear weapons was presented. This resulted in annual congressional budget battles over the past decade over weapons such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), the so-called bunker buster to the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).
The currently awaited NPR provides the opportunity to shift past policy from a cold war thinking to a vision moving forward that allows a redirection of critical resources to address current and future security threats. These threats include so-called "loose nukes" in the former Soviet States and nuclear proliferation.
Deterrence, Nuclear Non-proliferation and arms control are the three critical elements needing to be addressed in the current NPR.
The president should declare that the role of current US nuclear forces is for deterrence only – not for preemptive strike or offensive use. Secondly abiding by our treaty obligations in the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) the US must be committed to nuclear non-proliferation and in this position committed to the prevention of nuclear terrorism. Finally the US must be committed to arms control. There are more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. These massive stockpiles of the US and Russia increase the risk of accidental launch or theft putting every country at risk.
These positions are in keeping with US and global public opinion on nuclear weapons. They promote the stabilization of international nuclear order and maintain the US in a credible leadership role as we move to negotiations on arms control including the new START treaty, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) all occurring this year.
President Obama has the opportunity to set the forces in motion to realize his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The president and congress need to hear our voices. This is not a partisan or Democrat / Republican issue, it is a survival issue. The US can and must lead by example.