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February 23, 2010
5:49 PM

CONTACT: Union of Concerned Scientists

Elliott Negin
Media Director

United States to Retire Nuclear-Armed Tomahawk Missiles

Japanese Legislators Urge Obama Administration to Restrict the Purpose of U.S. Nuclear Weapons to Deterrence

WASHINGTON - February 23 - The Japanese press reported yesterday that the United States will retire its nuclear-armed Tomahawk cruise missiles, signifying the end of an ongoing debate within the Obama administration over the future of these weapons. The Tomahawk's status is one of several contentious issues the administration has worked to resolve as part of its soon-to-be-released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which will guide U.S. nuclear weapons policy for the next five to 10 years.

During the 1980s, the U.S. Navy deployed approximately 300 nuclear Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles on surface ships and submarines. In 1992, following the end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush withdrew these weapons and placed them in storage in the United States, where they have remained available for redeployment on submarines. They were scheduled to be retired in 2013, but in May 2009, the high-level Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States recommended retaining—and presumably refurbishing—the weapons, based on testimony by several Japanese diplomats. The commission, called the Perry-Schlesinger Commission after its chair and vice-chair, former U.S. defense secretaries William Perry and James Schlesinger, argued that the nuclear Tomahawk was a key component of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and that Japan would be "very concerned" if the United States retired the weapon.

Since last spring, however, the Tomahawk issue has attracted the attention of Japanese officials and the general public. In response to questions from Japanese Diet members, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada launched an investigation into the diplomats' testimony to the Perry-Schlesinger Commission. In late December, Okada sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disavowing the testimony, stating that it did not represent Japan's official position.

"Retiring the Tomahawk missile is an important step in fulfulling President Obama's pledge to revamp U.S. nuclear weapons policy, which is still stuck in the Cold War," said Gregory Kulacki, a senior analyst with the Union of Concern Scientists' (UCS) Global Security Program. "And this decision appears to be more in line with Japanese thinking about nuclear weapons than what was reflected by the Perry-Schlesinger Commission."

The Japanese position on nuclear weapons was amplified last week when 204 members of Japan's Diet sent a letter to President Obama supporting his efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. The Diet members also called on the United States to "immediately adopt a declaratory policy stating that the 'sole purpose' of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter others from using such weapons against the United States or U.S. allies."

The Obama administration will define the purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons as part of its Nuclear Posture Review, which it is expected to release in early March. UCS has urged the administration to adopt the same policy the Diet members spelled out in their letter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.


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