CFR Task Force Report: U.S. Must Act to Reduce Nuclear Force Levels and Dangers of Proliferation and Use

CFR Task Force Report: U.S. Must Act to Reduce Nuclear Force Levels and Dangers of Proliferation and Use

April 30, 2009 8:57 am (EST)

News Releases


More From Our Experts

Washington, DC--In his April 5 Prague speech, President Obama called for the United States to lead international efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons. A new Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored Independent Task Force report, co-chaired by former secretary of defense William J. Perry and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, says that while “the geopolitical conditions that would permit the global elimination of nuclear weapons do not currently exist,” steps can be taken now to diminish the danger of nuclear proliferation and nuclear use.

More on:

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Defense and Security

The Task Force report, titled U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, focuses on near-term policies to reduce nuclear weapons to the lowest possible level consistent with maintaining a credible deterrent, while also ensuring that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is safe, secure, and reliable for as long as it is needed. “The imperative before the Obama administration,” the report says, “is to use all available tools to prevent the use and further acquisition of nuclear weapons.” The Task Force is comprised of eminent leaders of the national security community and is directed by CFR Senior Fellow Charles D. Ferguson.

The report notes that “Iran’s nuclear program poses the most significant challenge to strengthening the rules-based nonproliferation regime and preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” The Task Force underscores that bolstering the global nonproliferation regime is the best way to contain the threat of proliferation posed not only by Iran, but also by North Korea and other potential nuclear states.

More From Our Experts

Recommendations: The report recommends that U.S. policymakers take the following steps to lessen nuclear threats and promote cooperation on disarmament:

-   state clearly that it is a U.S. goal to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used, by either a state or a nonstate actor, and that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is providing deterrence for itself and its allies;

More on:

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Defense and Security

-   reaffirm security assurances to allies;

-   continue to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons and do so in a transparent manner, and take the international lead in reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in security policy;

-   seek further reductions in nuclear forces, beginning with a bilateral strategic arms control agreement with Russia;

-   seek to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), taking as many steps as possible toward this end before the Nonproliferation Treaty Review (NPT) Conference in May 2010;

-   call for a moratorium on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes;

-   strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency’s vital role of containing proliferation, including seeking universal adoption of the Additional Protocol and providing adequate and sustainable funding to the Agency;

-   work cooperatively to ensure that every state with nuclear weapons or weapons-usable materials—even those that remain outside the Nonproliferation Treaty like India and Pakistan—implements best nuclear security practices.

The Task Force notes that “the United States cannot form a more effective nuclear security system alone. It must work cooperatively with global partners. All states share the responsibility to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again, to prevent the acquisition of additional nuclear weapons by other states, and to redouble efforts to secure and reduce existing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials.”

Russia: “The Task Force emphasizes that the United States has a particular opportunity in the renewal of arms control talks with Russia and urges a revitalized strategic dialogue with Russian leaders.” The Task Force notes that the impending expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) provides an opportunity to make deeper cuts in American and Russian nuclear arsenals and it applauds steps in this direction.

China: While China is a “nuclear-armed rival,” the Task Force notes that the United States and China “are not yet ready to form a formal nuclear arms control agreement because of the significant asymmetry between their two arsenals.” Rather, the report calls for renewed military-to-military discussions with China to encourage transparency and a serious dialogue about weapons in space, including seeking a trilateral ban by China, Russia, and the United States on testing anti-satellite weapons.

The Task Force emphasizes that post–Cold War changes in the security environment call for renewed American leadership to shape U.S. nuclear weapons policy. “Many competing interests demand President Obama’s attention, but the impending expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in December 2009, the upcoming congressionally mandated nuclear posture review, and the preparation for the 2010 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference offer the new administration an opportunity to begin to review existing treaties, revive negotiations, strengthen the global nonproliferation system, and promote best nuclear security efforts.”

For the full text of the report, visit:

Task Force Members

Spencer P. Boyer, Center for American Progress; Linton F. Brooks; Ashton B. Carter,* U.S. Department of Defense; John Deutch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Charles D. Ferguson, Council on Foreign Relations; Michèle A. Flournoy,* U.S. Department of Defense; John A. Gordon, U.S. Air Force (Ret.); Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, LEG Inc.; Eugene E. Habiger, University of Georgia; J. Bryan Hehir, Harvard University; Laura S. H. Holgate, Nuclear Threat Initiative; Frederick J. Iseman, CI Capital Partners LLC; Arnold Kanter, The Scowcroft Group; Ronald F. Lehman II, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Jack F. Matlock Jr., Columbia University; Franklin C. Miller, The Cohen Group; George R. Perkovich, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; William J. Perry, Stanford University; Mitchell B. Reiss, College of William and Mary; Lynn Rusten; Scott D. Sagan, Stanford University; Brent Scowcroft, Forum for International Policy; Benn Tannenbaum, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Task Force Observers

Michael A. Levi, Council on Foreign Relations; Gary Samore,** White House; Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall,** National Security Council; Francis Slakey, Georgetown University

The Council on Foreign Relations sponsors Independent Task Forces to assess issues of current and critical importance to U.S. foreign policy and provide policymakers with concrete judgments and recommendations. Diverse in backgrounds and perspectives, Task Force members aim to reach a meaningful consensus on policy through private and nonpartisan deliberations. Once launched, Task Forces are independent of CFR and solely responsible for the content of their reports. Task Force members are asked to join a consensus signifying that they endorse "the general policy thrust and judgments reached by the group, though not necessarily every finding and recommendation." Members’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only and do not imply institutional endorsement. Task Force observers participate in discussions, but are not asked to join the consensus.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

* Carter and Flournoy participated in the Task Force under their affiliations with Harvard University and the Center for a New American Security, respectively. As current administration officials, they have not been asked to join the Task Force consensus.

**Samore and Sherwood-Randall participated as Task Force observers under their affiliation with the Council on Foreign Relations. Observers participate in Task Force discussions, but are not asked to join the consensus.


Top Stories on CFR


CFR experts discuss President Joe Biden’s decision to increase tariffs on various Chinese imports and the implications for the U.S. economy and U.S.-China relations. 


Myanmar’s civil war between resistance groups and the ruling military junta has reached a decisive phase.


Despite China’s growing pressure, Taiwan has developed one of the world’s strongest democracies—one that will be increasingly tested in the coming years.