Barack Obama to limit use of US nuclear weapons

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Barack Obama to limit use of US nuclear weapons

by
Mark Tran

A B-2 stealth bomber flies a sortie at an undisclosed location over the US. President Barack Obama is set to unveil a new nuclear policy that officials say will reduce the role of atomic weapons in US national security strategy. (AFP)

The US will not use nuclear weapons
against non-nuclear states that comply with the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty, even if it is attacked with biological or
chemical weapons, Barack Obama is expected to announce today.

However,
the US president is expected to stop short of declaring that the US
would never be the first to launch a nuclear attack, as many arms
control advocates had recommended.

Obama will describe the
purpose of weapons as "primarily" or "fundamentally" to deter or
respond to a nuclear attack. But even as he limits the conditions for a
nuclear strike, the president will make an exception for states such as
Iran and North Korea, which have violated or renounced the NPT.

In an interview with the New York Times,
before today's unveiling of the new US nuclear strategy, Obama
described his policy as part of a broader effort to achieve a world
free of nuclear weapons.

Obama can expect an onslaught from
conservatives who believe that such an approach undermines US national
security. At the other end of the spectrum, liberals will be
disappointed that he stops short of renouncing the first-strike option
altogether.

"We are going to want to make sure that we can
continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons," Obama told
the New York Times, "while making sure that our conventional weapons
capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme
circumstances".

There are five declared nuclear states: the US, Britain, France, Russia
and China. Three states with nuclear weapons have refused to sign the
NPT – India, Pakistan and Israel – and North Korea renounced the treaty
in 2003.

Iran remains a signatory, but the UN security council
has repeatedly found it in violation of its obligations, because it has
hidden nuclear plants and refused to answer questions about allegations
that it was working on a warhead.

The new strategy, known as the
nuclear posture review, comes amid a flurry of nuclear diplomacy. Obama
plans to fly to Prague to sign a new arms control agreement with Russia
on Thursday to slash nuclear arsenals by a third. The following week, he will host 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit meeting on nuclear security.

Obama's
new strategy marks a break with the Bush administration's more hawkish
policy set out in its 2002 review, threatening the use of nuclear
weapons to pre-empt or respond to chemical or biological attack, even
from non-nuclear countries.

Those threats, Obama said, could be
deterred with "a series of graded options" – a combination of old and
newly -designed conventional weapons. In another departure from his
predecessor, Obama will commit the US to no new atomic arms
development, US officials said.

The US will, however, increase
investment in upgrading its weapons infrastructure, which one White
House official said would "facilitate further nuclear reductions".

In
line with an in-depth review of US nuclear weapons policy, the
administration also hopes to persuade Russia to agree to open talks on
mutual cuts in nuclear arsenals that go beyond the Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (Start) treaty to be signed in Prague.

The White
House hopes to overcome Russia's expressed reluctance to move beyond
Start, signed at the end of the cold war in 1991 and which expired in
December, especially if it means cutting Moscow's arsenal of tactical,
or short-range nuclear arms. Russia considers these so-called theatre
nuclear weapons vital to its defence strategy and an important
bargaining chip on security issues.

"We are going to pursue
opportunities for further reductions in our nuclear posture, working in
tandem with Russia but also working in tandem with Nato as a whole," Obama told the New York Times.

An early test will be the estimated 200 tactical nuclear weapons
– considered largely obsolete – the US still has stationed in western
Europe. Russia has called for their removal, but Obama said he wanted
to consult his Nato allies before such a commitment.

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