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Mixed Reviews for Obama's Nuclear Strategy

Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe

Russian soldiers wear chemical protection suits as they stand next to a military fueler on the base of a prime mover of Russian Topol intercontinental ballistic missile during a training session at the Serpukhov's military missile forces research institute. US President Barack Obama Tuesday unveiled a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). (AFP/Natalia Kolesnikova)

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack
Obama Tuesday unveiled a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that will
significantly limit the circumstances under which Washington would use
nuclear weapons as part of a strategy to bolster the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other efforts to halt and reverse
the spread of nuclear arms.

Among other changes,
the new strategy forbids the use of nuclear weapons against signatories
in good standing of the NPT, forswears the testing of nuclear weapons
and development of new nuclear warheads, and commits the administration
to seek Senate ratification and the entry into force of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

groups generally hailed the new document, although some expressed
concern that the new strategy falls short of a comprehensive "no
first-use policy" and doesn't go far enough toward achieving Obama's
commitment to "a world free of nuclear weapons", as he promised in a
major policy address in Prague one year ago.

"These changes are
the most far-reaching since the end of the Cold War nearly 20 years
ago, and reflect the reality that nuclear weapons have become a
liability in today's world," said Lisbeth Gronlund of the Union of
Concerned Scientists.

"But given today's realities, we hope that
this is just the beginning and the president will go even further to
strengthen national and international security before the end of his
term," she added.

Obama, who will join Russian President Dmitri
Medvedev to sign a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in
Prague Thursday, issued his own statement on the NPR Tuesday.

United States is declaring that we will not use or threaten to use
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their
nuclear nonproliferation obligations," Obama said.

enables us to sustain our nuclear deterrent for the narrower range of
contingencies in which these weapons may still play a role, while
providing an additional incentive for nations to meet their NPT
obligations," he added.

The new NPR made a notable exception in
its policy of non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons
states for countries, such as Iran and North Korea, which fail to
comply with the treaty's provisions.

"Those nations that fail to
meet their obligations will therefore find themselves more isolated,
and will recognise that the pursuit of nuclear weapons will not make
them more secure," Obama said.

The new NPR, which was cleared by
the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marks a major turnaround
for Defence Secretary Robert Gates who, while serving in the same
position under former President George W. Bush, warned in October 2008
that the U.S. would either have to develop new nuclear warheads or test
existing weapons in order to ensure the reliability and safety of
Washington's aging nuclear arsenal.

"This NPR determined that
the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Programmes to
extend the lives of warheads will use only nuclear components based on
previous tested designs and will not support new military missions or
provide for new military capability," he said Tuesday.

no new testing, no new warheads &no new missions or capabilities,"
added Gen. James Cartwright, the Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman
and a former head of the U.S. Strategic Command in summarising the
essence of the new U.S. position.

"No one in the previous
administration could have said that," noted Joe Cirincione, the
president of the Ploughshares Fund, a major nuclear disarmament group.

you compare the reduction in roles and missions (of nuclear weapons) of
this Posture with the expansion of roles and mission in the (2002) Bush
NPR, it's like night and day," he noted, adding that in Bush's proposal
for new nuclear weapons, such as those that could specifically target
bunkers and trucks, "he treated them like they were very large
conventional weapons, while Obama is saying, 'No, they're not. We would
only use nuclear weapons in extremis.'"

The NPR's release helps
set the stage for the signing of the new START accord, which commits
the U.S. and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals by one-third,
bringing their total number of warheads down to 1,550 each.

week, Obama will host a nuclear security summit that will bring 47
heads of state or government here - the largest such gathering in
Washington in history - to discuss ways to better safeguard nuclear
materials from terrorists and disrupt illicit nuclear trade.

month, representatives of the world's governments will convene at U.N.
headquarters for the latest five-year review of the NPT, including ways
to strengthen adherence to its provisions.

"Whether by accident
or design, the Obama administration is staging this beautifully. These
pieces all fit together and are mutually supporting," said Cirincione.

new NPR provoked a variety of reactions across the political spectrum,
with pro-nuclear hawks, such as Frank Gaffney of the Centre for
Security Policy (CSP), calling its renunciation of new U.S. nuclear
weapons as "most alarming".

"Even if there were no new START
treaty, no further movement on the (CTBT), and no new wooly-headed
declaratory policies, the mere fact that the United States will fail to
reverse the steady obsolescence of its (nuclear) deterrent ...will
ineluctably achieve what is transparently President Obama's ultimate
goal: a world without AMERICAN nuclear weapons," Gaffney, who was
responsible for nuclear policy under Ronald Reagan, wrote on the
National Review Online.

Others complained that the NPR did not
go far enough. While calling it a "significant improvement" over its
post-Cold War predecessors, the Centre for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation expressed disappointment that it did not make
deterring a nuclear attack on the U.S. and its allies the "sole" - the
NPR used the word "fundamental" - purpose of Washington's arsenal and
that it did not include a "no first-use" policy.

Both "would
have further strengthened the credibility of the U.S. conventional
deterrent and reduced the incentives that other states might have to
acquire nuclear weapons to protect themselves from a U.S. first
strike," the group said in a statement.

The London-based British
American Security Information Council (BASIC) called the document a
"step in the right direction" but noted that it "stops far short of a
transformational policy".

BASIC's Paul Ingram said its
maintenance for now of the estimated 200 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons
deployed in Europe was "disappointing", although he noted that their
fate was still to be worked out with NATO.

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