Issued January 2002

On 9 January, the US Department of Defense released a classified version of the first Congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). It is the first NPR since 1994. Building on the Quadrennial Defense Review released in September 2001, the NPR provides a blueprint for the changing role of US strategic nuclear forces with as few treaty restrictions as possible.

Despite international obligations to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons under Article VI of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPR upholds nuclear weapons as central to US national security policy. Following on Bush’s pledge at the Crawford Summit in November, the NPR calls for unilaterally reducing strategic warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next ten years. However, the proposal would simply put the deactivated warheads in storage, making them available for future use. The US will also maintain the capability to modify existing or develop new nuclear weapons.

The NPR also notes that the Bush administration will not change its position on nuclear testing. While for the time being the Bush administration will continue to adhere to the moratorium on full-scale nuclear testing, it will also continue to oppose ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The NPR does not make a formal recommendation to resume nuclear testing, however it calls on the Department of Energy to accelerate the time it would take to prepare a full scale test, which is currently two years.

David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, stated, “The recent Nuclear Posture Review tells us that US policymakers are still thinking that nuclear weapons make us safer, when, in fact, they remain weapons capable of destroying us. Their desire to retain flexibility is in reality a recipe for ending four decades of arms control. Their push for ballistic missile defenses is a formula for assuring that US taxpayers enrich defense contractors while diverting defense expenditures from protecting against very real terrorist threats. The Bush promise of nuclear weapons reductions turns out to be a policy for missing the real opportunities of the post Cold War period to not only shelve these weapons but eliminate them forever.”

The NPR announces a New Triad in which the traditional strategic nuclear triad will become a subset bolstered by missile defenses, advanced conventional weapons, and improved command, control and intelligence capabilities to increase the US deterrent capability. Although Russia, China and even some allies oppose US plans to develop and deploy missile defenses, the NPR reaffirms the US resolve to move forward with missile defenses regardless of international consequences.