Tensions Persist in U.S. Over START Replacement

While U.S. President Barack Obama remains committed to replacing the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, some administration officials as well as military officials, lawmakers and weapons scientists have differing opinions on making major cuts to the nation's nuclear arsenal, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 8).

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to cut their nations' respective deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads under the new pact. The two countries are now required under a 2002 deal to hold no more than 2,200 operationally fielded warheads by 2012.

High-level disagreements have persisted over how deeply and quickly the U.S. arsenal can be cut without compromising national security, given the existence of nuclear stockpiles in other nations, suspicions about the intent of certain atomic programs, and the impossibility of eliminating nuclear-weapon know-how.

Another issue is the proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead, which would receive no funding under the administration's fiscal 2010 budget request (see GSN, Aug. 18).

Such questions could be addressed in the congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review, a broad assessment of the nation's strategy, forces and readiness due near the end of the year. The report will reconsider policies as basic as the nation's reliance on nuclear weapons deployed on land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched missiles and bomber aircraft, according to high-level Defense Department officials.

The administration is faced with these issues even as it deals with the continuing recession, the battle to revamp the health care system and the threat of climate change.

“From a distance, it could look like, ‘How do you do all that?’” said Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher. “It’s like the operation of a very high-end restaurant kitchen. It may look chaotic, but beautiful things come out of it.”

Along with the cutback in deployed strategic warheads, Moscow and Washington have pledged to draw down the number of deployed delivery vehicles from the currently authorized 1,600 to between 500 and 1,100.

“For some it is not enough of a cut, for others it is too much, too fast,” said one high-level Pentagon official.

Another Defense Department official added: “So long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, how do we sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent for us, and that can be extended to our allies? How do you define that?”

The Nuclear Posture Review is also expected to reassess Washington's refusal to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks.

“With the end of the Cold War and the development of new conventional technologies, the traditional purposes for U.S. nuclear weapons have become increasingly less relevant,” said Arms Control Association head Daryl Kimball.

“We can and should limit the role of our nuclear weapons to a core deterrence mission,” Kimball said, adding that a reliable nuclear deterrent “requires far fewer nuclear warheads and delivery systems” (Shanker/Landler, New York Times, Sept. 8).

September 9, 2009
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While U.S. President Barack Obama remains committed to replacing the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, some administration officials as well as military officials, lawmakers and weapons scientists have differing opinions on making major cuts to the nation's nuclear arsenal, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 8).