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Experts Urge Obama to Transform N-Weapons Policy

For Immediate Release: February 9, 2010

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, ACA (202-463-8270 x107)

(WASHINGTON) - In anticipation of a major nuclear weapons policy review expected to be completed March 1, former government officials, nuclear weapons experts, and leaders of arms control organizations representing more than 1 million Americans have sent a letter (PDF) to President Obama, urging him to fulfill his April 2009 pledge to "put an end to Cold War thinking" and "reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy."

In the letter, sent to the White House and key cabinet members on February 1, the group called on the president to ensure that the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) "advances the highest security priorities: preventing terrorists or additional states from obtaining of using nuclear weapons; reducing global stockpiles, and moving toward a world without nuclear weapons."

The authors of the letter include Richard Garwin, recipient of the National Medal of Science and a long-time government consultant; Morton H. Halperin, former State Department director of policy and planning; Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, former president of the National Defense University; Jan M. Lodal, former principal deputy secretary of defense for policy; Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists; Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists; Christopher Paine, Nuclear Program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

The signatories expressed concern that the "Nuclear Posture Review will preserve rather than put an end to Cold War thinking, and undermine the important agenda you [President Obama] set forth in Prague."

The group expressed concern that the "Nuclear Posture Review will preserve rather than put an end to Cold War thinking, and undermine the important agenda you set forth in Prague."  In Prague on April 5, Obama called for concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons including deeper nuclear weapons reductions and a permanent, verifiable ban on nuclear weapons testing.

The letter urges President Obama to promote "transformational rather than incremental changes" in four key areas:

First, regarding U.S. policy on the fundamental role of nuclear weapons: "The new NPR should clearly narrow the purpose of nuclear weapons to deterring nuclear attacks on the United States and our allies," the authors write. "Ambiguity about the purpose of U.S. nuclear forces provides little deterrent value at a high cost; it undermines the credibility of our conventional deterrent, complicates our nonproliferation diplomacy, and can be used by other countries to justify their pursuit or improvement of nuclear weapons."

Even after two post-Cold War NPRs, the United States still deploys more than 2,200 nuclear warheads mainly to counter a Russian attack and, if necessary, defend U.S. forces or allies against conventional attack or counter chemical or biological threats.

Second, with regard to further nuclear weapons reductions, the letter states: "If the United States adopted a core nuclear deterrence posture, it would facilitate a shift to a stockpile of hundreds rather than thousands of nuclear weapons.... The NPR should make clear...that the United States is able and willing to undertake further significant reductions in its deployed nuclear warheads provided that Russia is a willing partner."

The letter also states that "the NPR should signal that forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons are no longer essential to preserving the security of the NATO alliance." That recommendation was bolstered recently when, over the last few weeks, German, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish foreign ministers urged that the next round of U.S.-Russian arms reduction talks lead to the removal of all tactical nuclear weapons still in Europe, including approximately 200 U.S. bombs at several NATO bases.

Third, the letter urged the president to eliminate the current requirements and plans for rapid launch in response to a nuclear attack. President Obama himself noted during the presidential campaign that "keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment's notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation."

Fourth, the letter urges President Obama "to clarify his January 2009 pledge 'not to authorize new nuclear weapons' by establishing that it is U.S. policy not to develop or produce newly designed warheads, or to modify existing warheads for the purpose of creating new military capabilities." In the fiscal 2003 Defense Authorization Bill, Congress defined a "new nuclear weapon" as one with "a pit or canned subassembly" not yet in the stockpile or already in production.

"Efforts to pursue newly designed warheads," the letter states, "are technically unnecessary and would undercut our efforts to convince other nations to forgo nuclear weapons or to refrain from developing new and more advanced types of nuclear warheads."

For additional background, see:

"What Are Nuclear Weapons For? Reassessing and Reducing the Role of Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century Security Policy," Remarks by Daryl Kimball to the First Annual STRATCOM Deterrence Symposium, July 29, 2009   <http://www.armscontrol.org/events/STRATCOMRemarks>

"2008 Presidential Q & A: President-elect Barack Obama," Arms Control Today, December 2008 <http://www.armscontrol.org/2008election>

"Nuclear Posture Review Leaks; Outlines Targets, Contingencies," by Philipp C. Bleek,  Arms Control Today, April 2002 <http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_04/nprapril02>

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