April 12th, 2010
11:51 AM ET

Obama's nuclear strategy: What's different?

President Barack Obama hosts leaders from 46 countries for a two-day nuclear security summit starting

President Barack Obama hosts leaders from 46 countries for a two-day nuclear security summit starting

Eben Harrell

It is 72 pages long and filled with arcane deterrence language, but there's arguably no more important document in the world right now than the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that President Obama released on Tuesday. After all, the text spells out how many nuclear weapons the U.S. will continue to deploy around the world and the conditions under which it would be prepared to use those weapons — no small thing considering that its arsenal is big enough to threaten the survival of the species. Here are five ways in which Obama has shifted — or not shifted — U.S. nuclear policy from the George W. Bush years.

1. It's still MAD
In a historic speech in Prague last April, Obama pledged to "end Cold War thinking." Yet the U.S. still has a cache of land- and sea-based missiles and long-range bombers. The reason? The idea of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is still central to America's nuclear standoff with Russia. With thousands of weapons ready to launch at a moment's notice and with both sides retaining the option to "launch on warning" of an incoming attack, Obama said during the presidential campaign that the U.S. was unnecessarily exposing itself to accidental nuclear war, in the event of faulty radar alerts or computer glitches. (Long-range missiles do not have a self-destruct button and cannot be rerouted mid-flight.) While it is highly unlikely that the U.S. and Russia would ever intentionally engage in nuclear war, the NPR does nothing to carry out Obama's pledge to lessen the chance of accidental nuclear war by taking U.S. missiles off hair-trigger alert.

2. The U.S. won't start a nuclear war (against friendly nations at least)

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soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Smith360

    It's entirely refreshing to see the departure of America's nuclear policy's from the GW Bush era. A permanent ban on creating new nuclear weapons such as a deep penetrating nuclear bunker buster which GW Bush continuously pushed for has now with this agreement been taken off the table along with at least 1/3 of the total operational Nuclear Weapons in America and Russia.

    The major shift appears to be GW Bush's push for newer and more Nuclear Weapons while dreaming up ways to use them, vs Obama's push for fewer Nuclear Weapons while actively working on ways to not use them.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  2. Suzi

    I think we should ban ALL nuclear weapons for ALL peoples and have a UN-type committee worldwide soley dedicated to eradicating nuclear wepaons and technology for producing them. Just make them and biological and chemical weapons illegal world wide, and those like us that have them have to dismantle them and anyone not complying cut off all trade with other nations, and get rid of every last one of them for it is insane to allow anyone to weild that threat and make it possible to use then making it okay for all others to use nuclear weapons for it is a self fullfilling armeggedon to allow this type of destructive weapons to even exist... IMO.

    April 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm |