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Defense Officials Clarify Nuclear Review

Ian Graham - Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2010 - The Nuclear Posture Review has laid out a roadmap for the United States to follow in future nuclear dealings, and it also has raised a lot of questions in the public forum.

Bradley H. Roberts, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense, and Navy Adm. John E. Roberti, deputy director for strategy and policy for the Joint Staff, spoke with journalists on a DoDLive Bloggers' Roundtable yesterday to clarify the particulars of the review.

"It is intended to take concrete steps now to reduce our reliance to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons -- while at the same time ensuring that we maintain a safe, secure and effective deterrence, so long as nuclear weapons remain relevant," Roberts said.

"We are seeking to increase our reliance on non-nuclear means of deterrence, principally missile defense, non-nuclear strike capabilities, and what we're calling countering-WMD, or combating-WMD capabilities," he said, referring to weapons of mass destruction.

The review will provide a modern perspective on nuclear deterrence policy, not a removal of nuclear weapons from the United States arsenal, as some have interpreted. Only one weapon, the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile-Nuclear or TLAM-N, is being retired, Roberti said.

The policy is by no means a reduction of capability, Roberts said, but more of a repackaging that will allow the United States to respond to threats appropriately and, ideally, to avoid the disastrous repercussions of using nuclear weapons.

"A nuclear weapon would be perfectly thorough in dealing with the military threat," Roberts said. "We'd like to have other means; we think that would be more credible as a threat in the eye of [an enemy] that we might actually employ that other means.

"Our desire is to have the niche capability that we think is credible in the eyes of the Kim Jong-Ils of the world," Roberts said, referring to the North Korean dictator, "but not to go so far down this pathway that we're preventing further nuclear reductions by Russia or generating concerns in Russia and China about the destabilizing impact of these capabilities."

But it also uses what Roberts called "calculated ambiguity" to allow the president to call for a nuclear strike if needed.

"The president chose a middle ground because he was not persuaded that the conditions exist today to enable us to safely say that the only purpose of our nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack," Roberts said.

Primarily, the report has provided a "roadmap," as Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it, to work multilaterally to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles around the world.

"Those who wanted a concrete, pragmatic war plan to actually reduce nuclear dangers and to identify an agenda of activities that can be accomplished cooperatively internationally, see a lot in this report," Roberti said.

The global security situation is drastically different than it was 20, 40, or 60 years ago, and requires different methods of defense, Roberts said.

"In this environment, we have some clear nuclear dangers in front of us -- dangers posed by defiant states seeking nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community and in violation of their treaty commitments, and for these states we need strong and effective deterrence postures," he said. "So long as nuclear threats remain from these states, the nuclear umbrella will remain as part of this overall regional deterrence architecture."

Although the situation is different, Roberts said, it's no less dire. North Korea and Iran have both made efforts to develop nuclear weapons programs. The leaders of al Qaida also have stated their intent to obtain and use nuclear weapons.

"These are all alarming indicators," Roberts said. "They are not proof that there is a nuclear weapon being smuggled today or tomorrow, but there are alarming indicators that require our serious attention."

According to the review and current nuclear policy, that attention could mean very bad results for anyone posing a threat to the United States. While the plan is to lower the number of nuclear weapons, it is not to shrink the United States' ability to respond to aggression, Roberti said.

"Our declaratory policy says that if you're a non-nuclear-weapon state, as defined by the non-proliferation treaty, and you are in good standing, you're honoring your non-proliferation obligations, you are at no risk," he said. "If you are not in good standing with your nuclear non-proliferation obligations, the United States rules out nothing."

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