- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Obama administration’s nuclear strategy review made public on Tuesday keeps in place all strategic weapons needed to fight a nuclear war and presents only minor policy changes, a move that upset arms-control advocates who had sought major cuts in U.S. forces.

The report of the yearlong Nuclear Posture Review changes how nuclear arms will be used against non-nuclear weapons states. Nuclear-missile forces will remain on alert to be fired within minutes to counter a nuclear strike, but the intercontinental ballistic missile warheads now are targeted on open oceans — not Russian or Chinese cities — in case of an accidental launch, senior administration officials said in releasing the report.

“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,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at the Pentagon, echoing President Obama’s pledge last year.

RELATED STORY: Iran derides Obama’s ‘cowboy’ nuke stance

U.S. officials said the review’s main findings are a setback for anti-nuclear proponents within the administration, namely Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and aides who advocated a more fundamental strategy shift that would declare nuclear weapons solely for deterring attacks by established nuclear powers such as Russia and China.

Such a declaration would allow for deeper cuts beyond the 1,500 warheads now being proposed as the limit under a new U.S.-Russian arms accord.

“The United States is … not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, but will work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted,” the report said.

Mr. Gates had argued for keeping most of the past nuclear policies.

“The defense secretary was a strong voice against those other elements that were advocating a complete shift in declaratory policy away from anything other than a direct nuclear threat,” a senior administration official said.

The final review report, which was delayed for three months over policy disputes within the administration, stated that a “fundamental role” of nuclear weapons is to deter strategic nuclear attacks. That leaves open the option for use of nuclear arms to retaliate for a biological- or chemical-weapons attack, or a cyber-attack that cripples computer networks.

The report said “a narrow range of contingencies” exist that would involve nuclear weapons to deter “a conventional or [chemical- or biological-weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners.”

Mr. Gates said the “catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of biotechnology development” could lead to altering the non-nuclear targeting pledge.

The main elements of U.S. nuclear strategy outlined in the report are:

• Countering the spread of nuclear weapons and preventing terrorists from obtaining and using nuclear arms, described as an “immediate and extreme danger.”

• Keeping a “credible” nuclear deterrent force while reducing weapons and missile and bomber delivery systems.

Story Continues →