Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
U.S. Should Embrace Using Nukes for Nuclear Threat Only, Experts Say
WASHINGTON -- The greatest contribution the Obama administration's forthcoming review of U.S. nuclear strategy could make to nonproliferation is to establish a doctrine that pledges to use such weapons only against atomic threats, a leading disarmament advocate said last week (see GSN, Jan. 19).
The Pentagon-led Nuclear Posture Review, expected to be released in March, is to establish policies for the U.S. nuclear deterrent over the next five to 10 years. It should make a "strong statement about nuclear policy which can assure the world that we're still not in the position of planning to use nuclear weapons, particularly in a pre-emptive manner; an impression that had been left in the world in the last decade or so," said former Defense Secretary William Perry.
The highly anticipated review should also "endorse unambiguously" the sweeping nonproliferation goals U.S. President Barack Obama laid out in his 2009 speech in Prague and be "explicit about concrete steps" toward achieving those milestones, Perry said Friday during the U.S. rollout of the report from the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament.
The administration of Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush defined U.S. nuclear doctrine as reserving the right to respond by any means, including nuclear strike, to attacks made against the country.
The study includes 76 policy recommendations for world leaders to follow as they work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. It was issued last month in hopes of helping to guide deliberations at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, scheduled for May in New York.
The document suggests a worldwide nuclear arms rollback to 2,000 weapons, or about 10 percent of today's stockpile, by 2025.
It urges countries with nuclear weapons to refine their nuclear doctrines to limit the role of nuclear weapons and provide assurances that they would not consider a nuclear strike against any nation that does not possess such weapons.
The United States should "at the very least accept the principle that the 'sole purpose' of possessing nuclear weapons is to deter others from using such weapons" against it and its allies, the study states.
Embracing that position would "be a significant contribution" to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy and place "very strong pressure on the other nuclear-armed states to change their own position in a more forthcoming way," according to the report.
"The Prague speech just stated, of course, that it was the U.S. objective ... to reduce the salience of the role of nuclear weapons but it wasn't really spelled out in any more detail than that, whereas all the other elements of the Prague speech have since then have largely been operationalized," said Gareth Evans, co-chairman of the commission. He did not provide specific examples.
"To the extent that the world is waiting for the NPR is very much to see what is happening on the doctrine front," Evans added.
Perry argued that nonproliferation and disarmament efforts have "stalled or even reversed" in the last decade, noting that Russia and China today are said to be building new nuclear weapons.
"North Korea has gone nuclear and Iran is following close in its footsteps," according to Perry. If those countries develop their own arsenals "I believe we will cross over a nuclear tipping point, greatly increasing the danger of a nuclear catastrophe in the world," he said.
"We must do everything in our power to prevent that from happening," Perry added. He and former Senator Sam Nunn and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz are sometimes called the "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse" for their key role in promoting revived discussion of nuclear disarmament.
Evans said nuclear doctrine was a "lively issue" for debate among commission members because "there's still a constituency" for extended deterrence -- possible use of a nuclear-strategic response in the event of a nuclear attack on the territory or troops of an ally. There are also advocates for keeping open the possibility of using nuclear weapons to deal with non-nuclear contingencies, including "particularly extreme ones" that could stem from biological weapons development.
However, the commission's "very strong view was that we just simply can't make serious progress toward disarmament without at the threshold making absolutely clear that nuclear weapons' role in salience must be reduced in this way and only kept available for nuclear threat contingencies," he told the audience.
The counterargument is that allies would be less protected by a security umbrella employing only conventional forces, Evans acknowledged. Still, he argued, the capability of the United States and others is "amply sufficient to deal with any other contingency that's remotely foreseeable for the future." He did not specify what those contingencies might include.
A declaration on the nuclear doctrine within the U.S. review would increase the chances to achieve agreements on nonproliferation and disarmament at the conference itself, as well as future talks at the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said.
Discussions on nonproliferation and disarmament "require multilateral buy-in" from other countries and a "big, big, stumbling block to getting that buy-in in the past has been the perception that the big guys are just not serious when it comes to disarmament," Evans said. "So for the U.S. to demonstrate seriousness in the way that would be involved in the NPR movement on this doctrine issue in a way that we've described would be ... hugely important."
"That's the view we've been stating with some vigor to the U.S. administration in recent months," he added.
A Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
"It's hard to see where" the policy discussion within the Obama administration about adopting the sole purpose position will land, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists Nuclear Information Project.
The debate raging between policy-makers -- with the U.S. National Security Council and the State and Defense departments on one side and U.S. Strategic Command on the other -- is one of the reasons the all-encompassing review has been delayed until March, he said.
Strategic Command believes making a declaration would be a mistake and allow countries to seek biological and chemical weapons without fear of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, Kristensen told Global Security Newswire .
The other side has argued that such countries are smaller and highly vulnerable to conventional capabilities, he added.
"It's hard to see how the administration would be able to illustrate it has reduced the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy without adopting such a policy," according to Kristensen.
A sole-purpose declaration would be a "fundamental" change that would allow for other major alternations to U.S. nuclear policy, Stephen Young, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told GSN . These could include reducing the number of warheads and the alert posture of the arsenal, he said.
However, there are other recommendations the Pentagon-led examination could make that would similarly promote disarmament, according to Young. An example would be removing U.S. warheads from Europe, he said (see GSN, Aug. 5, 2009).
Feb. 14, 2013
A new brochure describes the origins and the work of the Nuclear Security Project.
Feb. 14, 2013
George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn laid out their vision of a world without nuclear weapons and the urgent, practical steps to get there in a groundbreaking series of co-authored Wall Street Journal op-eds.