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WSJ: Debating Obama's New Nuclear Doctrine

Authors: George P. Shultz, Paul D. Wolfowitz, James R. Schlesinger, Former Defense and Energy Secretary, Fred C. Iklé, Richard N. Perle, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, and Richard R. Burt, Chairman, IEP Investors
April 13, 2010


Last week, the Obama administration began to unveil its new nuclear strategy. We asked six former U.S. foreign policy officials to reflect on the administration's Nuclear Posture Review, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, and whether Mr. Obama's emerging nuclear doctrine is a move in the right direction.

From Reagan to Obama

By George P. Shultz

President Barack Obama shares President Ronald Reagan's desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He also shares Reagan's conviction that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must maintain its deterrent capability through a stockpile of nuclear weapons that are secure, safe and reliable.

Last week saw two major and related developments: the release of a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia. The new treaty calls for modest but significant reductions in strategic weapons, accompanied by verification and transparency measures made necessary by the expiration of the original START last December.

The treaty helps move our relationship with Russia in a more constructive direction, and it sets the stage for work with other nations in getting the nuclear threat under control. The NPR is especially interesting in its broad invitation to other countries to work with the United States on strategic issues, and in its recognition of the importance of addressing regional disputes.

The NPR carefully calibrates the circumstances when states might face the use of nuclear weapons to "defend the vital interests of the United States, our allies and partners." States are encouraged to be non-nuclear by assurances that we would not use nuclear weapons against them.

The document recognizes that deterrence is not necessarily strengthened by overreliance on nuclear weapons. These weapons have not been used since 1945 and successive presidents have shown little appetite for using them except as a last resort. Instead, deterrence can be strengthened through more effective intelligence and through precision in the targeting of conventional weapons. We also have the capacity to target those individuals who might authorize the use of weapons of mass destruction. This 21st century version of deterrence is more relevant than one that is over-reliant on weapons that indiscriminately destroy large numbers of innocents.

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