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Nuclear Posture Review: Rhetoric vs. Reality
By Jackie Cabasso

Published 9 April 2010

Below is the first take on
the Nuclear Posture Review - excerpted
from a speech Jackie Cabasso gave yesterday in Brasilia to a hearing convened by the
Brazilian Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Despite hopes for a dramatic change of course,
the long awaited U.S. Nuclear Posture Review
(NPR), released yesterday, reveals no substantial
changes in U.S. nuclear force structure,
retaining all three legs of the strategic triad:
heavy bombers; ICBMs and strategic
submarines. It only marginally reduces the role
of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security
policy, stating, “These nuclear forces will
continue to play an essential role in deterring
potential adversaries and reassuring allies and
partners around the world.” The NPR explicitly
rejects reducing the high-alert status of ICBMs
and strategic submarines (SSBNs), concluding that
“the current alert posture of U.S. strategic
forces - with heavy bombers off full-time alert,
nearly all ICBMs on alert, and a significant
number of SSBNs at sea at any given time - should
be maintained for the present.” It also reaffirms
the policy of extended deterrence and retains the
capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons
on tactical fighter-bombers and heavy bombers,
including at NATO bases in Europe, while
proceeding with a modification of the B-61 bomb carried on those planes.

The NPR declares that the United States will not
use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against
non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT that
are in compliance with their non-proliferation
obligations - a “negative security assurance”
clearly meant as a warning to Iran and North
Korea. According to the NPR: “The United States
is... not prepared at the present time to adopt a
universal policy that the ‘sole purpose’ of U.S.
nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the
United States and our allies and partners, but
will work to establish conditions under which
such a policy could be safely adopted.” And it does not rule out first use.[1]

While the NPR pledges that the United States will
not develop new nuclear warheads and will not
support new military missions or provide for new
military capabilities, the Obama Administration’s
FY 2011 budget request, submitted on February 1
in anticipation of the NPR, proposes a 14%
increase in funding for the National Nuclear
Security Administration to modify and upgrade
U.S. nuclear weapons — a greater percentage
increase than planned for any other government agency.

Hoped-for US Senate ratification of new START and
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is being
conditioned on increased investment in new
infrastructure for building nuclear weapon
components, including their plutonium cores

The new facilities would provide the
capability to build-up nuclear forces should the
decision be made to do so and to produce modified
or new-design warheads. The Obama
administration’s FY2011 budget request includes
nearly $7.3 billion for the weapons complex, in
inflation adjusted dollars, the largest amount

The request includes a massive increase,
to $225 million for FY2011 alone, for the
controversial project to build a facility to
produce pits at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab.[4]

Modernization of existing US warheads to extend
their lives is also ongoing, including in some
cases, adding new military capabilities. As
verified in the NPR, the Obama administration is
proposing that nearly $2 billion be spent from
2011 to 2015 on modernizing the B-61 gravity
bombs, now deployed in Europe, to make them
compatible with the next generation of
nuclear-capable fighter jets, among other
things.[5] Unlike other nuclear weapon states,
the United States is not now producing and
deploying new versions of missiles, bombers, and
submarines assigned to carrying nuclear warheads.
But it is intensively developing many other
aspects of its nuclear forces, such as command
and control and targeting capabilities. And it is
planning for eventual new generations of delivery
systems. For example, the administration is
proposing to spend $672 million in 2011 for
design of a new ballistic missile submarine, to be built in 2019.[6]

Remarks by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a
March 26 White House briefing on the announcement
of US-Russian agreement on a new START treaty
pretty much sums up the direction of U.S. nuclear
weapons policy for the foreseeable future:
“America’s nuclear arsenal remains an important
pillar of the U.S. defense posture, both to deter
potential adversaries and to reassure more than
two dozen allies and partners who rely on our
nuclear umbrella for their security.

But it is clear that we can accomplish these
goals with fewer nuclear weapons. The reductions
in this treaty will not affect the strength of
our nuclear triad. Nor does this treaty limit
plans to protect the United States and our allies
by improving and deploying missile defense systems.
Much of the analysis that supported the U.S.
negotiating position was provided by the Defense
Department’s nuclear posture review, which will be released shortly.

As the number of weapons declines we will have to
invest more heavily in our nuclear infrastructure
in order to keep our weapons safe, secure and effective.”[7]

Jackie Cabasso, Brasilia, 8 April 2010


[2] The US Congress has appropriated $32.5
million for work in 2010 on design of non-nuclear
components of refurbished nuclear bomb, the B-61,
currently deployed in Europe. Congress has also
appropriated $97 million for design of a new
facility to produce the plutonium cores of
warheads at Los Alamos Laboratory, the Chemistry
and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR)
Nuclear Facility, and $94 million for design of
the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge,
Tennessee, which would build secondaries for
warheads. Construction is slated to begin this
spring of a replacement Kansas City Plant in
Missouri for production of non-nuclear components of warheads.

[3] Dr. Robert Civiak, “Enhancing Nuclear Weapons
Research and Production to Enhance Disarmament?”,
February 22, 2010,

[4] Department of Energy FY2011 Congressional
Budget Request, National Nuclear Security
Administration, Office of the Administrator, Volume 1, February 2010.

[5] Otfried Nassauer, “Washington Mulls
Modernization of Aging Bombs,” Spiegel Online, March 15, 2010.

[6] John M. Donnelly, “Cost of Nuclear Subs Could
Sink Navy Budget,” Congressional Quarter Today Online News, March 1, 2010.


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