Obama puts new limits on US use of nuclear weapons
The Pentagon's 'Nuclear Posture Review' narrows the list of potential targets, reflecting new threats like global terrorism. But Obama reserves the US right to strike first with nuclear weapons.
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Although some critics on the left say the new policy document doesn't go far enough, critics on the right say what is significant about the new direction is how it signals to friend and foe alike that the US is softening its ability to deter an attack.Skip to next paragraph
“The US not having a strong, reliable nuclear deterrent is basically an invitation for other people to get into the game and compete,” says James Carafano, a senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
Additionally, says Mr. Carafano, the success of the new nuclear posture ultimately will be decided by Congress, which decides which programs to fund. He thinks Congress will go along with most of what Obama has suggested.
“In the end, what we’re going to have is a smaller, less reliable nuclear deterrent,” Carafano says.
Defense Secretary Gates has pushed the Pentagon bureaucracy to move toward a defense posture that better reflects the world today.
Despite nearly a decade of fighting terrorists around the globe, many still fear that the real threat posed to the United States remains with large potential enemies such as Russia or perhaps China. To the extent that the new nuclear posture reflects a ratcheting down of the nuclear threat, the US can concentrate more on other, perhaps more realistic threats.
“The reality of the world that we live in today and the world that we anticipate living in, we have to expand the spectrum that we watch and guard against in this area,” said Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Pentagon Tuesday, including nuclear weapons, terrorism, and inter-continental weapons. “Our defensive capabilities, our deterrent capabilities, must be able to address that entire span.”
The document also marks a shift in that it puts the threat of nuclear terrorism above that from a conventional enemy.
The “New START” treaty Obama and Medvedev will sign this week may represent a new era in US-Russia relations. Indeed, the Nuclear Posture Review declares that “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries and prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically.”
But the document isn’t as sanguine about China, which has remained relatively opaque as it modernizes its military – including a limited nuclear capability. States the NPR: “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.”