Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Obama’s New Nuke Strategy Signals Bipartisanship

Posted in Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on April 7, 2010

It’s been a busy and stressful week for President Obama’s defense team.  After months of painstaking negotiations behind closed doors and after a year of crunching the numbers, the Obama administration has finally released its Nuclear Posture Review to the American public; a nice label to what a common person would call America’s official nuclear weapons policy.

For anyone interested in the full text of Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, here it is, courtesy of Joshua Keating at FP.com

For those who want to get to the nuts-and-bolts of the review, and I don’t blame you if you do (whose going to sit through 72 pages?) these are the statements that jump out:

The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”

“With…improvements in U.S. missile defenses…the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks – conventional, biological, or chemical – has declined significantly. The United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.”

“The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

In laymen’s terms, the United States will no longer direct nuclear weapons against countries that are both nuke-free and following global nuclear protocol.  As for those  with nuclear weapons (like Russia and China) and those who continue to obstruct nuclear inspection (like Iran, Syria and North Korea) beware, because you aren’t covered.

Without getting too much into the details of the report, here’s the bottom line: President Obama had to strike a balance between his supporters on the left and his opponents on the right. Like every policy the President implements, he has to take domestic politics into consideration. By decreasing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy (“fundamentally” for deterrence purposes), Obama appeases Democrats who have longed questioned the validity and importance of nukes in the 21st century.

But just in case military hawks on the other side of the aisle were content on raising a stink, the President explicitly stated that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces.” For Republicans who may have been worried that the Obama administration was somehow going to diminish U.S. nukes altogether (which would have been impossible anyway), this gives them at least some comfort in the years ahead.

Overall, it’s a pretty sound document. What was everyone expecting, a complete 180-degree turn?

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**


6 Responses

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  1. Sir_Mixxalot said, on April 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    It is perverted that missile defense is touted as of deterrent value — the only thing it deters is your enemy from reducing their arsenal size.


    “Effective missile defenses are an essential element of the U.S. commitment to strengthen regional
    deterrence against states of concern. Thus, while the United States will maintain a nuclear
    deterrent to cope with such states, we are also bolstering the other critical elements of U.S.
    deterrence, including conventional and ballistic missile defense capabilities.”

    Go Republicrats!!!!!!!!!!!

    It is pure P.R.

  2. Bill Baar said, on April 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Ever since Kerry talked about Wars of Last Resort, I’ve had a sick feeling a Democrat may well lead us into such a War and it would be a war of last resort using the weapon of last resort.

    Seems to me Obama’s taken the first steps towards that by inviting an attack with this rambling statement, and then singling out some targets in Iran and North Korea. America never more a destabilizing force in the world than when we offer up baffling leaders like Obama. They become tempting targets to Tyrants who learn too late the swift sword Americans perfectly willing to unsheathe.

  3. Anonymous 10 said, on April 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Associated Press Writer Vladimir Isachenkov
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    “The new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty is a much better deal for Russia than its predecessor, but Moscow reserves the right to withdraw from it if a planned U.S. missile defense system grows into a threat, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday. Sergey Lavrov said Russia will issue a statement outlining the terms for such a withdrawal after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the treaty Thursday in Prague.”

  4. ADR1NY said, on April 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    lets face facts….

    This policy doesn’t really do all that much.We still reserve the right to a first strike on nuclear powers and non nuclear powers who are not in compliance with the NNPT. So this is really little more than a feel good gesture.

  5. MustNotSleep14 said, on April 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Once again this shows that we need a president with vision and leadership, not one who is simply a moderator between the left and the increasingly erratic right.

  6. J Thomas said, on April 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Agreed. It doesn’t mean a whole lot. But at least he said we won’t nuke non-nuclear nations. The Russians and Chinese have been scoring propaganda points on that for decades, we might as well catch up.

    Better if he’d said we won’t do a first strike against nuclear nations either. Russia and China have made that claim, and of course we don’t believe them, but they get the value of saying it.

    The reduction in number of nukes gives Obama a chance to claim that the USA is following our obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. The rest of the world talks about our hypocrisy when we don’t do that, and he’s actually doing what we promised. So that’s good. It doesn’t make a difference to the threat level, not this time around. But when Obama talks about nonproliferation at least he can say with a straight face that he wants to head toward the goal of no nukes, and not look like a total liar.

    The line about Iran and North Korea is a distraction. I hope it was something somebody persuaded him to throw in, that doesn’t have any big policy implication.

    There’s a real difference between “We’re thinking about nuking Iran and North Korea” versus “We promise not to nuke anybody, except for Iran and North Korea”. But that difference looks much smaller if you’re Iranian.

    What effect it has on Iran is probably not good but probably not large, either. At least I can hope. It sounds real good to Zionists, it sounds like he’s firmly on their side. If it has no effect on Iran then it’s pretty much harmless and does have that benefit.

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