U.S. Nuclear Strategy Weathers Changes Since Cold War: GAO

The United States has maintained the core elements of its nuclear-weapon strategy over the last two decades amid changing dangers and reductions to the nation's quantity of atomic armaments, congressional investigators said in an assessment made public on Tuesday (see GSN, June 24).

"The current process for developing nuclear targeting and employment guidance has remained consistent" since 1991, though it has "evolved to cover a wider spectrum of scenarios and potential adversaries" seen by multiple presidential administrations following the Soviet Union's collapse, the Government Accountability Office analysis states.

The Defense Department "continues to exercise civilian oversight of the targeting process. The indirect relationship between the targeting process and DOD's [the department's] determination of requirements for nuclear weapons and delivery systems also continues."

The Pentagon's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review "identified new threats and a small number of contingencies that may require the use of nuclear weapons, even as the United States has substantially reduced the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile," the organization states. At the same time, the possibility of military confrontation with Russia has diminished, following the end of the Cold War, according to the analysis, the public version of a confidential document provided in May to legislative panels.

"In particular, DOD stated that the United States would only consider employing nuclear weapons against states that possess nuclear weapons or are not in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations," auditors wrote in this week's assessment. "The United States and Russia also agreed to the New START Treaty, which would reduce the number of deployed weapons by February 2018."

The presidential nuclear weapons guidance in place at present "identifies potential adversaries, target categories, and scenarios requiring
preplanned nuclear options; emphasizes the need for survivable and flexible nuclear forces; describes the type of nuclear options available to the president; outlines a plan structure designed to avoid an 'all-or-nothing' response to a nuclear attack; and directs nuclear forces to hold at risk those critical assets and capabilities which a potential enemy leadership values most," the report says, referring to statements from the offices of the Defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (U.S. Government Accountability Office report, July 31).

August 2, 2012
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The United States has maintained the core elements of its nuclear-weapon strategy over the last two decades amid changing dangers and reductions to the nation's quantity of atomic armaments, congressional investigators said in an assessment made public on Tuesday.

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