The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is the overarching U.S. policy regarding nuclear weapons. In the drafting of a new NPR there is an intense struggle between the White House and the Pentagon and the National Security Council over fundamental issues such as the “first use” option.
Barack Obama orders new nuclear review amid growing feud
President’s hopes for reform create bitter tensions with National Security Council and Department of Defense
The Observer, Sunday 28 February 2010
President Barack Obama has ordered the rewriting of the draft new US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), amid frustration in the White House that the document fails to reflect his aspirations for a nuclear-weapons-free world and an end to “cold war thinking”.
The review, drawn up by each administration, sets the doctrine justifying both the retention of nuclear weapons and the circumstances in which they might be used. It also determines more practical issues, including nuclear force readiness, targeting and war planning.
The rejected draft – described in its present form as merely a “tweaked version of George Bush’s NPR” – has become the subject of a bitter tug of war between the Department of Defense, the National Security Council and a White House that is determined that it should more closely reflect Obama’s Prague speech last year. In the speech, Obama put the issue of nuclear disarmament at the centre of his foreign policy. On Friday, an administration official told Atlantic magazine: “There are intense internal divisions over the core thrust of the NPR.”
At present America’s proclaimed policy on nuclear weapons is that it reserves the right for first use to deter an attack on the US or one of its allies.
President Obama and his allies are understood to want a new policy that is much closer to a declaration of no first use, making clear that the United States would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.
According to sources familiar with the process of producing the review, Obama is meeting resistance from the National Security Council – which does not share his view that a nuclear-weapons-free world is an achievable objective – and the Department of Defense.
The consequence has been a split in the administration among those involved in writing the review into two fiercely opposed camps – one led by the vice-president, Joe Biden, who is lobbying for Obama’s position, and the other clustering around the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Hillary Clinton has so far resisted joining either camp.
The deliberations over NPR – now not expected to be published until April at the earliest – come at a crucial moment in international nuclear disarmament negotiations. The next four months will see the issue of nuclear weapons catapulted to the top of the foreign policy agenda. A new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – Start – is up for renewal between the US and Russia, while the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference will also take place in the spring. Then, nuclear powers will come under renewed pressure from non-nuclear states to demonstrate they are serious about disarmament.
Separately, the issue of removing some 200 US freefall bombs, deployed in Europe, is increasingly expected to be raised at the Nato defence ministers’ summit, a position strongly backed by Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.
“The next four months are going to be very important,” says Joseph Cirincione, of the anti-nuclear foundation the Ploughshares Fund and a former director for non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“We are going to see the major policy product of this administration unveiled. We should see the new Start treaty unveiled. Then we have the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference. It will determine US nuclear policy – and the world’s – for the next 10 years.”
At the centre of that will be the NPR. “My understanding,” says Cirincione, “is that the president and vice-president are unhappy with the draft that has been produced. Nothing has been settled on the key issue: what is the use for our nuclear weapons? This is an issue that the president cares deeply about.”
At the centre of the continuing arguments among those involved in drafting the policy are whether the US should move against maintaining a targeting policy against non-nuclear targets defined as weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons and very large conventional weapons. “It is about numbers,” adds Cirincione. “The doctrine tells you how many tactical nuclear weapons you need.”
The sense of optimism that the US might deliver on its promises to make substantive moves towards a deeper disarmament is shared by former British defence secretary Des Browne, who chairs the cross-party Top Level Group on Nuclear Disarmament.
“A president prepared to take this issue on comes along once in a lifetime. I’m not naive about this. But he has the real potential to lead on this.”