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Strategic Review Suggests Potential New U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cuts

President Obama discusses a newly released defense strategy paper at the Pentagon on Thursday. The document suggests the United States could achieve further nuclear stockpile cuts without harming its security (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais). President Obama discusses a newly released defense strategy paper at the Pentagon on Thursday. The document suggests the United States could achieve further nuclear stockpile cuts without harming its security (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The United States might have opportunities to achieve additional nuclear arsenal cuts without undermining its strategic deterrent, the Obama administration said in a defense planning document issued on Thursday (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2011).

"As long as nuclear weapons remain in existence, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal. We will field nuclear forces that can under any circumstances confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage, both to deter potential adversaries and to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America’s security commitments," the defense strategic guidance states. "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy" (U.S. Defense Department release, Jan. 5).

The document, released by President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a Pentagon press briefing, calls for an increased U.S. armed forces focus on Asia and the withdrawal of some military personnel from Europe, Reuters reported. The paper, which addresses spending plans only in general terms, was published amid efforts to reduce defense spending by no less than $450 billion over the next 10 years.

The plan stresses the importance of curbing atomic advancements by Iran and North Korea.

"U.S. policy will emphasize Gulf security, in collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries when appropriate, to prevent Iran's development of a nuclear-weapon capability and counter its destabilizing policies," the strategy document says.

The paper refers to arms advancements by Iran and China as a potential threat to U.S. capabilities to exert military influence around the world. "The United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas where our access and freedom to operate are challenged," it states (Alexander/Stewart, Reuters, Jan. 5).

"Furthermore, we will maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula by effectively working with allies and other regional states to deter and defend against provocation from North Korea, which is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program," the document states.

The paper also addresses the threat posed by the potential intersection of nonstate actors and unconventional weapons materials.

"The proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons technology has the potential to magnify the threats posed by regional state actors, giving them more freedom of action to challenge U.S. interests," according to the review. "Terrorist access to even simple nuclear devices poses the prospect of devastating consequences for the United States. Accordingly, the Department of Defense will continue to enhance its capabilities, acting with an array of domestic and foreign partners, to conduct effective operations to counter the proliferation of WMD" (U.S. Defense Department release).

Washington could eliminate $45 billion in nuclear weapons spending over the next 10 years without harming the deterrent, the Associated Press quoted Arms Control Association research chief Thomas Collina as saying. Cutting four vessels from the nation's fleet of 12 ballistic-missile submarines could eliminate $27 billion in spending over one decade, and postponing the construction of next-generation nuclear bombers could eliminate $18 billion more in projected expenses, he said.

The United States as of September 2009 possessed 5,113 nuclear warheads, with some in active service and others on reserve. The New START arms control pact with Russia requires both nations to reduce deployments of strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems.

Panetta has not endorsed the potential elimination of one leg of the nation's land-, air- and sea-based nuclear deterrent, but he warned that congressionally mandated spending cuts starting next year could force the country to scrap its ICBM fleet (see GSN, Nov. 15, 2011; Robert Burns, Associated Press/MSNBC, Jan. 4).

The Pentagon chief is anticipated over the next several weeks to announce possible spending reductions to a number of weapons projects, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. The Pentagon's proposed budget for the next fiscal year is due to be rolled out in February (Shanker/Bumiller, New York Times, Jan. 4).

Collina played down the potential for significant Defense Department reductions in nuclear-weapon funding.

"My guess is it wouldn't reduce or eliminate any leg of the triad," he told AP (Burns, Associated Press).


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