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What Is The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review?

What Is The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review?

RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher asked Kingston Reif, deputy director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, to explain the review and what it could mean.

Kingston Reif: Basically, the "Nuclear Posture Review" [NPR] is a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear weapons strategy and policy for the next five to 10 years. This particular review was mandated by Congress in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. And it marks the third such comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear-weapons policy since the end of the Cold War. The first was completed by the Clinton administration in 1994 and the second by the George W. Bush administration in 2002.

RFE/RL: Next week, President Barack Obama is hosting more than 40 heads of state in Washington at a global nuclear-security summit. Will the declassified conclusions of this report play a role? Is there a link between what we'll read today and what happens next week?

I think there is a link. A year ago today the president gave a speech in Prague about the future of U.S. nuclear-weapons policy where he pledged to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. national-security policy as well as pursue the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Now, this NPR could either largely reflect the agenda that the president laid out in Prague, or it could be more of a status quo document that maintains that nuclear weapons are still as important to U.S. security as they were during the Cold War.

It remains to be seen where the NPR will come out on that regard and we're going to find out very soon. Given the nuclear-security summit and the upcoming Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, I think that a Nuclear Posture Review that doesn't really depart from the status quo could make it more difficult for the United States at these upcoming conferences. It could weaken its hand and make it more difficult for the United States to achieve the kind of support it needs from states around the world to strengthen its nonproliferation objectives [and] to increase international support for measures to safeguard and eliminate vulnerable nuclear materials.

RFE/RL: The review was supposed to have been completed last December. Have you seen or heard any explanation for why it has been delayed more than three months?

There are potentially a couple of explanations for that. One is that this is Washington, D.C. This report was conducted via the input and cooperation of numerous different agencies even though it was led by the Department of Defense. The Department of State had input, the Department of Energy had input, the National Security Council had input, so there was a lot of bureaucracy that had to be negotiated and circumvented. And I think that's one explanation for why it's taken so long.

The other reason is that these issues are difficult and contentious issues. And there were many different parties that were part of the review process and not all of them had the same views about what the future of U.S. nuclear weapons policy should be like.