The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is of great importance because it concerns the
most deadly weapons in the world. The report is overflowing with ambiguity.
First it notes that President Barack Obama seeks "a world without nuclear
weapons," but that he recognizes it may not be possible "in his lifetime."
Then it notes that after the Cold War "The threat of global nuclear war has
become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased" because a
terrorist may seek to bring a nuclear weapon into the United States. We assume
this does not mean it
is more dangerous today than during the Cold War, but it's not entirely clear.
It probably means that an al-Qaeda operative may enter the US with a nuclear
weapon and detonate it. If so, it's odd that the latest NPR does not explain
that in the unlikely event a weapon falls into the wrong hands, the chances of
a successful nuclear terror attack are exceptionally slight due to complex
technical reasons, and the fact that such a weapon has many intricate
safeguards. Instead the American people are given one more exaggerated fear to
The New York Times and many websites carried the following comment regarding
nuclear terrorism: "Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
who has written on nuclear history, said: 'The fear of a clandestine nuclear
attack on American soil goes back to the very beginning of the nuclear era.
There's certainly nothing new here, even if they didn't call it terrorism back
in the '50s ... If you consider that the threat has been around for more than
60 years, you don't get overwhelmed by fear'."
One of the memorable descriptions of the Posture Review was supplied by Robert
Haddick, editor of the Small Wars Journal, on April 9:
The authors of
the ... NPR are attempting to deliver two messages. The first message attempts
to show that the US government is making some significant changes to its
nuclear weapons doctrine and force structure, changes that bring the world
closer to being free of nuclear weapons. The second message asserts that the
United States is doing no such thing at all and in fact will remain a fully
modernized and supreme nuclear power.
The NPR lists "five key
objectives of our nuclear weapons and posture". They are:
1. Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
2. Reducing the role of US nuclear weapons in US national security strategy.
3. Maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force
4. Strengthening regional deterrence and reassuring US allies and partners.
5. Sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal.
We shall discuss number one and two, the most important.
"Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism" is a worthy goal, but
the Obama administration's approach to the problem is inadequate and
politically motivated. No effort is made in the document to explain why
complete nuclear disarmament - the only way to eliminate nuclear proliferation,
nuclear terrorism, and nuclear war - won't even be possible for the next 35
years (Obama's statistically remaining life span), if ever.
The US has been the main obstacle to complete nuclear disarmament during and
after the Cold War. The Soviet Union repeatedly called for nuclear disarmament,
and even proposed general and complete disarmament of each country's military
apparatus, including nuclear weapons. In January 1986, several years before the
USSR collapsed from internal political and economic contradictions, President
Mikhail Gorbachev introduced another plan - this time calling for complete
nuclear disarmament by 2000. Although at times sectors of the US ruling
establishment viewed various such proposals favorably, a majority always
demurred, as it does today.
If Washington boldly proposed the total nuclear disarmament of all nine nuclear
nations under strict UN supervision, it probably would result in a treaty to
eliminate the weapons within several years.
In this connection, when the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed
in 1970, the several nations in possession of nuclear weapons at the time were
supposed to gradually reduce their arsenals to the extent of complete nuclear
disarmament. That was 40 years ago, and while there have been reductions in
Russian and US stockpiles, the final goal is absurdly distant. It should have
transpired years ago.
Obama's effort to halt proliferation cannot possibly be sincere when he refuses
to condemn and sanction three of the four countries that have produced a
substantial number of nuclear weapons illegally in total violation of the NPT
because they are US allies - India, Pakistan and Israel. Instead Obama vents
fury, sanctions and the threat of attack upon North Korea, which possesses only
a couple of relatively small nuclear weapons.
Most telling of all, however, is the NPR's implied threat to punish Iran with a
nuclear attack, even though it does not have any nuclear weapons and repeatedly
promises not to produce them. Here is the sentence pertaining to Iran: "The
United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against
non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with
their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." Iran is technical violation
because of a couple of minor incidents.
Here is how Defense Secretary Gates elaborated on this sentence: "The NPR has a
very strong message for both Iran and North Korea, because whether it's in
declaratory policy or in other elements of the NPR, we essentially carve out
states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT. And
basically, all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that
category, along with non-state actors who might acquire nuclear weapons."
The phrase "all options are on the table”, which Gates repeated in his next
paragraph for emphasis, is standard George W Bush-Barack Obama speak for
threatening certain small and weaker countries that displease the White House.
Such bullying would never be directed against well-protected Russia.
Robert Parry, editor of the website Consortium News, wrote on April 18: "What
is perhaps even more extraordinary about Obama's comments - and the nonchalant
response from the US news media - is that the president appears to be
exploiting technical disputes to overturn a broader principle that nuclear
states should not threaten non-nuclear states with nuclear destruction."
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad responded with these words: "Even Bush did
not say what Obama is saying."
Tehran is filing a formal complaint with the United Nations, reports an Iranian
Foreign Ministry spokesman who noted that "such remarks prove that the
countries which possess nuclear arms are the greatest threat to the global
security." Iran strongly supports complete nuclear disarmament. At the Arab
League summit in Libya March 28 delegates called for a Middle East free of
nuclear weapons. They also requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to
end technical assistance programs in Israel if Tel Aviv continues to avoid UN
The NPR's second objective is "reducing the role of US nuclear weapons". This
does not mean reducing the number, deployed or in storage, just the role. And
there is a very good reason to reduce the role: The US is developing a major
non-nuclear alternative. It's called Prompt Global Strike (PGS) and sometimes
Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS).
The US government realizes that there are serious problems with using nuclear
weapons. Such weapons may be justified as a deterrent to avoid a nuclear
exchange because strike and counter-strike would result in mutually assured
destruction. But the entire world would object to a preemptive unilateral
strike against a non-nuclear state. For instance, had the Bush administration's
"shock and awe" terror bombing of Baghdad included nuclear weapons, the global
outcry - substantial to begin with - would have been magnified a hundred fold,
and the act would never be forgiven by much of the world. Indeed, it would
spark proliferation as countries scrambled to build nuclear deterrents of their
own, as did North Korea, to forestall a possible nuclear attack.
The document barely mentions Prompt Global Strike (PGS), revealing only that
the Pentagon "is studying the appropriate mix of long-range strike
capabilities, including heavy bombers as well as non-nuclear prompt global
strike". Global Strike usually means nuclear bombs and missile warheads. PGS or
CPGS means conventional, i.e., non-nuclear.
Prompt Global Strike relies on high-speed missiles, satellite mapping and other
cutting edge military technology to launch a devastating non-nuclear payload
from a military base in the US to destroy a target anywhere in the world in
less than one hour. The purpose is to resolve the conundrum posed by the global
inhibition toward the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, thus
greatly strengthening the Obama administration's full spectrum military