The Pentagon has notified Congress that it is delaying a required report on the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal because of the "complexity" of issues being addressed.
James N. Miller, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense, stated in a letter to senior House and Senate leaders that the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), required under 2008 legislation, will not be completed in time by the Feb. 1 deadline and instead will be completed by March 1.
The strategic review is being held up amid differences among President Obama's key White House advisers and national security officials at the Pentagon, and the state and energy departments, according to U.S. officials familiar with the process.
"There isn't even a draft of the NPR, that's really the problem," said one of the officials. "We're in the first week of January and we don't have a draft."
Mr. Miller, in his letters to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, stated only that the delay is the result of "the complexity of issues" and he offered classified briefings on "analysis and conclusions" by early February.
It is the second delay for the review. A Pentagon fact sheet made public in June stated that the review would be submitted to Congress in December 2009.
The official said nuclear weapons opponents in the Obama administration are seeking to use the NPR to try to advance the president's goal of making radical cuts in nuclear weapons.
Defense and national security officials are advocating a review that will "defend the country," the official said.
"The problem has been getting the principals to focus on this," the official said.
The review will set U.S. nuclear deterrence policy, strategy and force structure for the next five to 10 years.
Asked about the latest delay, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said the review is nearing completion and "we require additional time to appropriately address the range of issues under consideration in the NPR."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is heading up the review and officials said he has taken a position that U.S. nuclear weapons and support infrastructure are aging and in need of modernization.
Other officials, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., are said to be opposing the review's expected call for major investments in the nuclear arsenal.
According to the officials, one concept being examined in the review is whether to abandon U.S. strategic plans for a nuclear first strike as a way to deter would-be nuclear aggressors.
A no-first-use declaration is thought by some arms control specialists as one way to safely reduce the numbers of deployed nuclear weapons.
However, other national security specialists think adopting a "no-first-use" policy is destabilizing because it undermines the decades-old policy of deterring attacks with a large arsenal.
The New York Times, quoting senior Pentagon officials, reported Dec. 19 that the strategic review is expected to shift the focus of strategic nuclear policy toward stopping nuclear terrorism.
That goal is said to be more in line with Mr. Obama's announced goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons. The president also said nuclear weapons will be needed as long as other states pose a threat of nuclear attack.