Obama Strengthens U.S. Commitment to Nuclear Non-proliferation

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2010 (ENS) – President Barack Obama today changed the nuclear weapons posture of the United States after receiving the Nuclear Posture Review from the Department of Defense, the first overarching look at U.S. nuclear strategy since the end of the Cold War.

The review recognizes that “the greatest threat to U.S. and global security is no longer a nuclear exchange between nations, but nuclear terrorism by violent extremists and nuclear proliferation to an increasing number of states,” said President Obama.

“First, and for the first time,” Obama said, “preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism is now at the top of America’s nuclear agenda, which affirms the central importance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We have aligned our policies and proposed major funding increases for programs to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons around the world.”

“The United States is declaring that we will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations,” the President pledged.

This pledge returns the United States to the nuclear posture held before President George W. Bush took office in 2001. President Bush relied on strategic nuclear weapons rather than on the treaty. In his Fiscal Year 2009 budget, Bush asked Congress to fund the first new U.S. nuclear weapons in two decades and requested funding to build a new nuclear bomb making plant.

President Barack Obama pledges a world without nuclear weapons, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009. (Photo courtesy The White House)

President Obama announced the policy shift away from reliance on nuclear weapons just two days before he meets with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in Prague to sign a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that reduces the number of nuclear weapons each country may deploy.

“One year ago yesterday in Prague, I outlined a comprehensive agenda to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to pursue the peace and security of a world without them,” said President Obama today. “I look forward to advancing this agenda in Prague this week when I sign the new START Treaty with President Medvedev, committing the United States and Russia to substantial reductions in our nuclear arsenals.”

In fulfilling its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, President Obama said, “The United States will not conduct nuclear testing and will seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions or new capabilities for nuclear weapons.”

Congress mandated the Nuclear Posture Review, the third since the end of the Cold War. The Clinton administration conducted the first review in 1994, and the Bush administration the second in 2001.

The Nuclear Posture Review is a roadmap for reducing America’s nuclear arsenal while maintaining an effective deterrent, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the Pentagon today.

From left, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the Pentagon, April 6, 2010. (Photo courtesy Dept. of Defense)

Gates, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, explained some of the changes the review recommends.

New declaratory policies have taken the place of intentionally vague policies of the past, Gates said. For example, if a state that does not have nuclear weapons is in compliance with the nonproliferation treaty and its obligations, the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against that state. If such a state were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies or partners, however, “it would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response,” the secretary said.

Gates said the United States will adjust its policy if circumstances dictate the need. “Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of biotechnology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment to this policy that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of biological weapons.”

The scope of the review is broader than in the past, including the roles of missile defense, conventional strike, force levels, the weapons complex and the role of arms control in shaping U.S. nuclear posture, a senior defense official briefing reporters on background said yesterday.

“It’s shorthand in the nuclear business that nuclear weapons are the president’s weapons,” the Defense Department official said. President Obama has been “directly engaged in the process in a deliberative and thoughtful way,” he said.

Stating the country’s new nuclear weapons posture, President Obama said the review “recognizes that our national security and that of our allies and partners can be increasingly defended by America’s unsurpassed conventional military capabilities and strong missile defenses.”

The President said as he did in Prague last April, “So long as nuclear weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal that guarantees the defense of the United States, reassures allies and partners, and deters potential adversaries.”

“To that end,” Obama said, “we are seeking substantial investments to improve infrastructure, strengthen science and technology, and retain the human capital we need to sustain our stockpile, while also strengthening the conventional capabilities that are an important part of our deterrent.”

U.S. Titan II missile at the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona, the only publicly accessible Titan II missile site in the nation. (Photo by Todd and Barbara Hammond)

The Cabinet secretaries and the chairman stressed that the Nuclear Posture Review was a collegial interagency and international effort.

“The consultations that supported this process included more than 30 of our allies and partners,” Secretary Clinton said. “For generations, the United States’ nuclear deterrent has helped prevent proliferation by providing our non-nuclear allies in NATO, in the Pacific and elsewhere with reassurance and security. The policies outlined in this review allow us to continue that stabilizing role.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri and Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, both Democrats, said in a joint statement today, “The Nuclear Posture Review is grounded in the strength of our nuclear deterrent, and we are pleased that the NPR retains a nuclear ‘triad’ of intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers.”

“We are also pleased that the review concluded that maintaining the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear weapons, especially at lower numbers, requires increased investment to modernize aging infrastructure and to halt the erosion of the scientific and technical talent at our nation’s national security laboratories and plants,” said Skelton and Langevin.

The House Armed Services Committee will discuss these issues further next week during a Full Committee hearing on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and force structure on Wednesday, April 14, followed by a Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing on the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the FY11 budget request for missile defense programs on Thursday, April 15.

President Obama will host a nuclear security summit next week in Washington. Forty-sevens nations are expected to commit to specific steps to pursue the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years to preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials.

The 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be held in May at UN Headquarters in New York. Conferences to review the operation of the treaty have been held at five-year intervals since it took effect in 1970. The treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995.

President Obama said, “Next month in New York, we will work with the wider world to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime to ensure that all nations uphold their responsibilities.”

Practical steps are already being taken to prevent the smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material through the global maritime system.

On March 29 in Rome, the United States and Italy signed an agreement to help secure cargo containers passing through several Italian ports, including Genoa and Gioia Tauro.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will work with Italy’s Customs Agency under a cost-sharing arrangement to equip key ports in Italy with radiation detection equipment and an associated communications system.

“This agreement highlights the shared strong commitment of the U.S. and Italy to combating nuclear terrorism,” said Kenneth Baker, NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for the agency’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. “Italy plays a key role in the region’s maritime shipping and this agreement represents an important step forward in increasing international maritime security.”

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