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New Nuclear Strategy: Focus on Non-proliferation, Narrows the Use of Nuclear Weapons
April 7, 2010

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discuss the new Nuclear Posture Review with reporters. (AP Photo)
Washington — The Obama administration issued a new U.S. nuclear strategy April 6 that sharply narrows the use of nuclear weapons, but maintains their traditional role to deter a nuclear strike against the United States.

The Nuclear Posture Review (PDF, 2.7MB) was unveiled at a Pentagon briefing by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The review of the nation’s nuclear policy is the first since 2001 and the third since the end of the Cold War two decades ago. A review of U.S. nuclear policy is conducted at the start of every new administration; it influences federal spending, treaties, weapon deployments and their eventual retirement over the next five to 10 years.

The new policy defines measures to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, with emphasis on the importance of international treaties such as the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And it specifically renews a U.S. commitment to hold accountable those who provide terrorists with nuclear weapons or the materials to make them.

“The NPR provides a road map for implementing President Obama’s agenda for reducing nuclear risks to the United States, our allies and partners and the international community,” Gates said at the Pentagon briefing. “This review describes how the United States will reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons with a long-term goal of a nuclear-free world.”

Clinton told reporters the review is a milestone in transforming U.S. nuclear forces and the way in which the nation approaches nuclear issues.

“We are recalibrating our priorities to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, and we are reducing the role and number of weapons in our arsenal, while maintaining a safe, secure and effective deterrent to protect our nation, allies and partners,” she said.

Release of the strategy in Washington begins nine days of intensive nuclear diplomacy. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet in Prague April 8 to sign the new START treaty, designed to limit both nations’ nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads each, reduce deployed strategic delivery vehicles to 700, and limit deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800. Obama will host more than 40 world leaders at a nuclear security summit in Washington April 12–13 aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology.

Following this series of events, representatives from around the world will converge on the United Nations in New York May 3–28 for debate and review of the NPT, in part to determine if it needs to be amended or expanded. The review process is held approximately every five years.


At the Pentagon briefing, Gates told reporters that the Nuclear Posture Review includes significant changes to the U.S. nuclear posture. It focuses on five key objectives.

• The policy emphasizes the prevention of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

• It reduces the role of nuclear weapons in American national security by committing the United States to not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that participate in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and are in compliance with its requirements. That policy includes instances of chemical and biological attack, but with some reservations.

• While the United States agrees to reduce its nuclear arsenal in a new treaty with Russia, the policy will maintain the traditional role of strategic deterrence and stability of the nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver them by long-range missiles, nuclear submarines and heavy bombers.

• NPR calls for a broadened regional security structure that includes missile defenses and improved conventional forces. The United States will retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on fighter-bombers and heavy bombers.

• The policy requires the United States to sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal as long as nuclear weapons exist. But the United States will not conduct new nuclear testing, and will not develop new nuclear warheads.


The Obama administration is encouraging global compliance with the NPT. Under the treaty, countries with nuclear weapons agree to move toward disarmament, while countries without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them, and all have the right to peaceful nuclear energy.

According to the text of the Nuclear Posture Review, “the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.”

Speaking at the Pentagon April 6, Jim Miller, the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, said the vast majority of countries are compliant with the NPT. If any should decide to use chemical or biological weapons (CBW) against the United States, its partners or its allies, they “face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response,” he said, rather than a nuclear attack. Miller said U.S. conventional forces and strike capabilities are developing additional capabilities to create greater deterrence for the use of CBW. However, he said the defense posture could be revised if the United States finds itself unable to cope with a growing threat from those weapons.

Miller said the Obama administration wants its defense posture to dissuade countries from developing nuclear weapons.

“If you are a country considering proliferation … you put yourself in a different category with respect to our nuclear capabilities,” he said. As the United States continues to develop its conventional and missile-defense capabilities to counter weapons of mass destruction, the hope is that “these states will see less and less of an advantage to going down that path.”