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Nuclear Posture Review, 2010

Published April 6, 2010

The U.S. Department of Defense states, "The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) outlines the Administration’s approach to promoting the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, while simultaneously advancing broader U.S. security interests. The NPR reflects the President’s national security priorities and the supporting defense strategy objectives identified in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review." The review was released on April 6, 2010. President Obama delivered a speech on the NPR's release.

Excerpt of Executive Summary:

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama highlighted 21st century nuclear dangers, declaring that to overcome these grave and growing threats, the United States will “seek the peace
and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He recognized that such an ambitious goal could not be reached quickly –perhaps, he said, not in his lifetime. But the President expressed his determination to take concrete steps toward that goal, including by reducing the number of nuclear
weapons and their role in U.S. national security strategy. At the same time, he pledged that as long
as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal, 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 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) outlines the Administration’s approach to promoting the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, while simultaneously advancing broader U.S. security interests. The NPR reflects the President’s national security priorities and the supporting defense strategy objectives identified in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

After describing fundamental changes in the international security environment, the NPR report
focuses on five key objectives of our nuclear weapons policies and posture:

1. Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism;
2. Reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy;
3. Maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels;
4. Strengthening regional deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies and partners; and
5. Sustaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal.

While the NPR focused principally on steps to be taken in the next five to ten years, it also considered the path ahead for U.S. nuclear strategy and posture over the longer term. Making
sustained progress to reduce nuclear dangers, while ensuring security for ourselves and our allies
and partners, will require a concerted effort by a long succession of U.S. Administrations and
Congresses. Forging a sustainable consensus on the way ahead is critical.

The Changed – and Changing – International Security Environment
The international security environment has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. The threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased. As President Obama has made clear, today’s most immediate and extreme danger is nuclear terrorism. Al Qaeda and their extremist allies are seeking nuclear weapons. We must assume they would use such weapons if they managed to obtain them. The vulnerability to theft or seizure of vast stocks of such nuclear materials around the world, and the availability of sensitive equipment and  technologies in the nuclear black market, create a serious risk that terrorists may acquire what they need to build a nuclear weapon.

Today’s other pressing threat is nuclear proliferation. Additional countries–especially those at odds with the United States, its allies and partners, and the broader international community–may acquire nuclear weapons. In pursuit of their nuclear ambitions, North Korea and Iran have violated non-proliferation obligations, defied directives of the United Nations Security Council, pursued missile delivery capabilities, and resisted international efforts to resolve through diplomatic means the crises they have created. Their provocative behavior has increased instability in their regions and could generate pressures in neighboring countries for considering nuclear deterrent options of their own. Continued non-compliance with non-proliferation norms by these and other countries would seriously weaken the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with adverse security implications for the United States and the international community.

While facing the increasingly urgent threats of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the United States must continue to address the more familiar challenge of ensuring strategic stability with existing nuclear powers – most notably Russia and China. Russia remains America’s only peer in the area of nuclear weapons capabilities. But the nature of the U.S.-Russia relationship has changed fundamentally since the days of the Cold War. While policy differences continue to arise between the two countries and Russia continues to modernize its still-formidable nuclear forces, Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries, and prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically. The two have increased their cooperation in areas of shared interest, including preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

The United States and China are increasingly interdependent and their shared responsibilities for
addressing global security threats, such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and terrorism, are growing. At the same time, the United States and China’s Asian neighbors remain concerned about China’s current military modernization efforts, including its qualitative and quantitative modernization of its nuclear arsenal. China’s nuclear arsenal remains much smaller than the arsenals of Russia and the United States. But the lack of transparency surrounding its nuclear programs – their pace and scope, as well as the strategy and doctrine that guides them –
raises questions about China’s future strategic intentions.

These changes in the nuclear threat environment have altered the hierarchy of our nuclear concerns and strategic objectives. In coming years, we must give top priority to discouraging additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities and stopping terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear bombs or the materials to build them. At the same time, we must continue to maintain stable strategic relationships with Russia and China and counter threats posed by any emerging nuclear-armed states, thereby protecting the United States and our allies and partners against nuclear threats or intimidation, and reducing any incentives they might have to seek their own nuclear deterrents.

Implications for U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policies and Force Posture

The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War era of bipolar military confrontation is poorly suited to address the challenges posed by suicidal terrorists and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is essential that we better align our nuclear policies and posture to our most urgent priorities – preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

This does not mean that our nuclear deterrent has become irrelevant. Indeed, as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces. These nuclear forces will continue to play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world.

But fundamental changes in the international security environment in recent years – including the growth of unrivaled U.S. conventional military capabilities, major improvements in missile defenses, and the easing of Cold War rivalries – enable us to fulfill those objectives at significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. Therefore, without  jeopardizing our traditional deterrence and reassurance goals, we are now able to shape our nuclear weapons policies and force structure in ways that will better enable us to meet our most pressing security challenges.

  • By reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons – meeting our NPT Article VI obligation to make progress toward nuclear disarmament – we can put ourselves in a much stronger position to persuade our NPT partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.
  • By maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent and reinforcing regional security architectures with missile defenses and other conventional military capabilities, we can reassure our non-nuclear allies and partners worldwide of our security commitments to them and confirm that they do not need nuclear weapons capabilities of their own.
  • By pursuing a sound Stockpile Management Program for extending the life of U.S. nuclear weapons, we can ensure a safe, secure, and effective deterrent without the development of new nuclear warheads or further nuclear testing.
  • By modernizing our aging nuclear facilities and investing in human capital, we can substantially reduce the number of nuclear weapons we retain as a hedge against technical or geopolitical surprise, accelerate dismantlement of retired warheads, and improve our understanding of foreign nuclear weapons activities.
  • By promoting strategic stability with Russia and China and improving transparency and mutual confidence, we can help create the conditions for moving toward a world without nuclear weapons and build a stronger basis for addressing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
  • By working to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs and moving step-by-step toward eliminating them, we can reverse the growing expectation that we are destined to live in a world with more nuclear-armed states, and decrease incentives for additional countries to hedge against an uncertain future by pursuing nuclear options of their own.

Preventing Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Terrorism

As a critical element of our effort to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons, the UnitedStates will lead expanded international efforts to rebuild and strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime – and for the first time, the 2010 NPR places this priority atop the U.S. nuclear agenda. Concerns have grown in recent years that we are approaching a nuclear tipping point – that unless today’s dangerous trends are arrested and reversed, before very long we will be
living in a world with a steadily growing number of nuclear-armed states and an increasing likelihood of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons.

The U.S. approach to preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism includes three key elements.

First, we seek to bolster the nuclear non-proliferation regime and its centerpiece, the NPT, by reversing the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and enforcing compliance with them, impeding illicit nuclear
trade, and promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy without increasing proliferation risks.

Second, we are accelerating efforts to implement President Obama’s initiative to secure all
vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide in four years.

And third, we are pursuing arms control efforts – including the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and negotiation of a verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty – as a means of strengthening our ability to mobilize broad international support for the measures needed to reinforce the  non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.

Among key Administration initiatives are:

  • Pursuing aggressively the President’s Prague initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide, including accelerating the Global Threat Reduction Initiative and the International Nuclear Material Protection and Cooperation Program. This includes increasing funding in fiscal year (FY) 2011 for Department of Energy nuclear nonproliferation programs to $2.7 billion, more than 25 percent.
  • Enhancing national and international capabilities to disrupt illicit proliferation networks and interdict smuggled nuclear materials, and continuing to expand our nuclear forensics efforts to improve the ability to identify the source of nuclear material used or intended for use in a terrorist nuclear explosive device.
  • Initiating a comprehensive national research and development program to support continued progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons, including expanded work on verification technologies and the development of transparency measures.
  • Renewing the U.S. commitment to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass  destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.

Reducing the Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons

The role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security and U.S. military strategy has been reduced
significantly in recent decades, but further steps can and should be taken at this time. The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.

During the Cold War, the United States reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a massive conventional attack by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. Moreover, after the
United States gave up its own chemical and biological weapons (CBW) pursuant to international treaties (while some states continue to possess or pursue them), it reserved the right to employ nuclear weapons to deter CBW attack on the United States and its allies and partners. Since the end of the Cold War, the strategic situation has changed in fundamental ways. With the advent of U.S. conventional military preeminence and continued improvements in U.S. missile defenses and capabilities to counter and mitigate the effects of CBW, the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks – conventional, biological, or chemical – has declined significantly. The United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.

To that end, the United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing “negative security
assurance” by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons
against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their
nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

This revised assurance is intended to underscore the security benefits of adhering to and fully complying with the NPT and persuade non-nuclear weapon states party to the Treaty to work with the United States and other interested parties to adopt effective measures to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

In making this strengthened assurance, the United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response – and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.

In the case of countries not covered by this assurance – states that possess nuclear weapons and states not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations – there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW attack against the United States or its allies and partners. The United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, but will work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted.

Yet that does not mean that our willingness to use nuclear weapons against countries not covered by the new assurance has in any way increased. Indeed, the United States wishes to stress that it would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital  interests of the United States or its allies and partners. It is in the U.S. interest and that of all other nations that the nearly 65-year record of nuclear non-use be extended forever.

Accordingly, among the key conclusions of the NPR:

  • The United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.
  • The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.
  • The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

Maintaining Strategic Deterrence and Stability at Reduced Nuclear Force Levels

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have reduced operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons by about 75 percent, but both still retain many more nuclear weapons than they need for deterrence. The Administration is committed to working with Russia to preserve stability at significantly reduced force levels.

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