Obama sets out new policy on US nuclear weapons use
President unveils radical overhaul of strategy with strict warfare curbs
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has pledged not to use atomic weapons against a non-nuclear country even if America is attacked with biological or chemical weapons.
The radical overhaul of American strategic policy abandoned decades of deliberate ambiguity surrounding the nuclear deterrent.
It sets out for the first time the circumstances in which the United States will or will not use atomic weapons.
Rather than resorting to early use of nuclear weapons, the new policy will involve "a series of graded options" in response to any lesser attack.
Mr Obama stopped short of making a pledge for "no first use" of nuclear weapons -- a key demand of many disarmament activists -- but approved a new policy that lays down that the US would "only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners".
The Nuclear Posture Review warned that countries breaking the rules -- including Iran and North Korea -- remained potential targets.
Mr Obama vowed "to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and focus on reducing the nuclear dangers of the 21st century" while promising "a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent for the United States and our allies and partners as long as nuclear weapons exist".
Former president George W Bush -- like his predecessors -- reserved the right to use nuclear weapons "to deter a wide range of threats" including banned chemical and biological weapons and large-scale conventional attacks. However, Mr Obama decided to change this as part of his drive towards a "nuclear-free world".
Mr Obama said the US would respond with nuclear weapons only if an attack was by a nuclear state, or a non-signatory or violator of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. He hopes that the US move will strengthen American arguments that other countries should either reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons or decide not to develop them.
The policy review is the first since 2001 and only the third since the end of the Cold War two decades ago. Its release was delayed for several months because of splits within the Obama administration.
Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief and a former member of the Bush administration who served in several national positions during the Cold War, is believed to have resisted the pledge on non-use of nuclear weapons.
Senior officials said that the new strategy was the product of 150 meetings, including 30 convened by the White House National Security Council and that Mr Obama had personally intervened to resolve disputes.
The White House also urged Russia to begin talks on adopting first-ever limits on shorter-range nuclear weapons. These would be follow-on negotiations to the newly completed "New START" treaty reducing long-range nuclear weapons, due to be signed by Mr Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia in Prague tomorrow.
The announcement opened a frenetic nine days of nuclear diplomacy. Mr Obama will host 47 world leaders in Washington next week for a summit on nuclear security. (© Daily Telegraph, London)