Obama plans dramatic reductions in US nuclear weapons | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 06, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 06, 2010

Obama plans dramatic reductions in US nuclear weapons


PRESIDENT Obama plans "dramatic reductions" in the country's nuclear arsenal, a senior U.S. official said Monday, but it remains unclear if he will opt for a radical break from past policy.
A review of nuclear policy, due to be completed this month, "will point to dramatic reductions in the stockpile, while maintaining a strong and reliable deterrent through the investments that have been made in the budget," a senior administration official told AFP.
It will also "point to a greater role for conventional weapons in deterrence" and rule out the need to develop low-yield "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons for penetrating underground targets, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was due to meet Obama on Monday and was expected to present final options on the "Nuclear Posture Review," which was initially supposed to be released in December.
Gates, an influential figure in Obama's cabinet and former CIA director, has been portrayed by arms control advocates as reluctant to back major changes in nuclear arms policy. It remains unclear how Obama will decide the crucial question of whether the United States should openly declare the conditions for the possible use of nuclear weapons, or retain ambiguous language.
Some of Obama's allies in Congress are pushing to change standing U.S. policy that permits using nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack, even against a country without an atomic bomb.
The lawmakers want Obama to declare that the exclusive purpose of the arsenal is to deter nuclear attack, which would allow for more drastic cuts in the atomic arsenal.
Amid an intense debate among Obama's advisers, arms control experts and media reports say such a shift appears unlikely.
He has called for nuclear powers to make major cuts in stockpiles in return for stepped up global efforts to counter the spread of atomic weapons.
The policy review "will be an important step forward in pursuing the goal of reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and seeking a world without them," the administration official said.
Amid growing concern over Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the Obama administration is pushing to bolster the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which comes up for review this year.
Officials said the U.S. policy review will call for funds for maintaining the current nuclear arsenal, which the administration believes will pave the way for reducing the country's overall stockpile.
Washington's policy review comes as the United States and Russia appear close to a new deal to slash their nuclear arsenals, despite Moscow's concerns about Washington's latest missile defence plans.
The broad outlines of a new treaty on nuclear weapons have been clear since a summit in July, when Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed to slash the number of warheads on either side to between 1,500 and 1,675.
The presidents also agreed that the number of carriers capable of delivering the warheads should be limited to between 500 and 1,100.
The United States has said it currently has some 2,200 "operational" nuclear warheads, while Russia is believed to have about 3,000.
In addition, the U.S. stockpile includes 2,500 additional warheads "in reserve," which can be activated if necessary, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
The administration is also pushing the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban all nuclear tests, whether military or civilian in nature.
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