The conditions for further reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy do not currently exist, according to the former policy director of the President Barack Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.
Brad Roberts, now the director of the Center for Global Security Research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review consisted of “what we thought could reasonably be accomplished under certain optimistic assumptions to create the conditions that will allow us to take additional [disarmament] steps beyond those we were prepared to take in 2009.”
The Obama administration, he said, learned that “the conditions do not exist” for additional disarmament steps, despite Obama’s nonproliferation agenda calling for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy as key for eventually achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world.
“Russia is not willing today to take that additional one-third reduction that we think is within our mutual reach,” Roberts said, referring to Obama’s request that Russia join the U.S. in cutting deployed strategic nuclear warheads by one-third. “China is not willing to offer any additional assurances to Washington or Moscow, that as we go down [in nuclear weapons numbers], it won’t come up,” he added.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty committed the United States and Russia to by 2018 cap their nuclear arsenal at 700 deployed ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers; 1,550 deployed strategic warheads; and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers.
U.S. military officials in 2013 determined that the U.S. arsenal could still meet deterrence goals with an additional reduction from the 1,550 deployed strategic warheads under the treaty to approximately 1,000.
Roberts said challenges posed by China and Russia have led some to suggest unilateral nuclear reductions, but that “history is unkind to the argument that unilateral measures…would actually serve the interest of the United States.”
The Nuclear Posture Review established the nation’s nuclear policy for decade. The next U.S. president is expected to direct a new Nuclear Posture Review to establish policy for the following five to 10 years. Past reviews shaped U.S. strategy for deterrence and nuclear stockpile reductions. The latest highlighted the prevention of nuclear terrorism as a key policy goal.