Obama to cut nuclear arms stockpile after policy review
Radical overhaul comes as president prepares to sign treaty with Russia
Published 02/04/2010 | 05:00
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama will rewrite America's policy on nuclear weapons next week, heralding further reductions in the US stockpile and giving a pledge not to develop new systems.
After a widespread review of the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal Mr Obama is expected to reject the doctrine on nuclear weapons -- the "nuclear posture" -- adopted by George W Bush, which included the possibility of the United States launching an attack on a non-nuclear state.
The Obama administration has come under pressure from arms control analysts to redefine the circumstances in which the US might consider using nuclear weapons, and to state the justification for keeping them is purely as a deterrent.
After the president's speech in Prague last April -- when he laid out his personal vision of a world without nuclear weapons -- the US has been carrying out a review of its nuclear posture.
And the conclusions are due to be published in a declassified version early next week before Mr Obama flies back to Prague to sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8.
Mr Bush tried but failed to persuade Congress to finance a new programme to develop more advanced nuclear bombs and design new atomic warheads.
Now Mr Obama is expected to rule out the development of new weapons systems -- despite reservations from the military, which is mindful of the fact that Russia and China are modernising and expanding their nuclear forces respectively.
He will also drop the notion, espoused by his predecessor, that nuclear warheads can be deployed in certain circumstances; for example, if another country resorts to attacking US forces with chemical or biological weapons.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said that if Mr Obama redefined nuclear arms as purely weapons of deterrence, it would "eliminate the number of potential targets the US military think they need to hit".
It would also reduce the number of nuclear weapons the US believes it needs, he said, which could bring the total well below the 1,550 strategic warheads agreed under the new START treaty announced last week.
One of the key issues is whether Mr Obama should agree to make a new declaration that the US will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. Under Mr Bush the policy was deliberately ambiguous.
The Obama administration could pledge never to attack a non-nuclear state with nuclear weapons, provided they were loyal upholders of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). "That would exclude North Korea and Iran," Mr Kimball said.
The US is also considering withdrawing from Europe its last tactical nuclear weapons -- 200 B61 gravity bombs -- which are based in Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands; all members of NATO. A decision on this is not yet expected as it is a matter for discussion within NATO.
However, several countries say they want the bombs withdrawn because there is no longer any justification for keeping them in Europe. (© The Times, London)