NPR (also) stands for Nuclear Posture Review. The Obama administration is required by Congress to draw up a Nuclear Posture Review to outline U.S. nuclear weapons policy for the next five years. For months the Department of Defense has been leading efforts in the administration to finish the NPR by mid January. The contents of the NPR should reflect President Obama's Nobel Prize-wining vision for a nuclear weapons-free future, and will show whether the Administration is ready to take concrete steps towards disarmament, turning impressive anti-nuke rhetoric into reality.
The NPR will specifically lay out the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy, determine the size of our nuclear arsenal, and shape the role and size of the nuclear complex (research, production, and waste sites across the U.S.). The Bush Administration's Nuclear Posture Review was a disturbance internationally as it revealed U.S. plans to advance nuclear technology with the creation of smaller, more "usable" nuclear weapons to be potentially used against seven named foreign countries. The current NPR is expected to break with its predecessor, yet the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have been pushing for increased resources to the nuclear weapons complex for "modernization," which would enhance nuclear warhead production capabilities and further entrench the primacy of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy.
Modernization may sound good on the surface, but delve a little deeper and it becomes clear that proposals are rooted in an addiction to capital intensive working projects. The NNSA has proposed the construction of new facilities to improve the "safety and reliability" of our current arsenal. This argument of necessity has been discredited by the most recent JASON Report, an independent scientific study, which finds no evidence for doubting our existing Life Extension Program's ability to ensure the safely and reliability of our nuclear arsenal. The NNSA has proposed the multi-billion dollar construction of facilities at sites in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Kansas City, Missouri, that would, if built, quadruple our production capacity from the current twenty new nuclear warheads per year to eighty.
Obviously this would send the wrong message on disarmament and non-proliferation to the international community, namely that the US is pursuing enhanced capacity to build new nuclear weapons, directly contradicting Obama's rhetorical commitment to pursuing a nuclear weapons-free world. This so-called modernization will only ensure the reliability of nuclear weapons production, when what we really need is warhead dismantlement.
The President has asked for options in the NPR, but as the review is being completed, those options are being heavily influenced by actors, such as NNSA and U.S. Strategic Command, who are pushing to expand the nuclear complex under the guise of "modernization." A bad NPR could contradict Obama's pursuit of a nuclear weapons-free world, hurt the US's credibility with the world community at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations next May, and likely limit the president from taking unilateral actions to reduce nuclear dangers and move toward disarmament.
Now is the time for the U.S. to demonstrate its resolve toward nuclear disarmament with an NPR shaped by diplomatic considerations. There are several practical steps President Obama can take, including taking US nuclear weapons off high-alert status as a safety measure, or adopting a No First Use policy for our nuclear arsenal. Members of Congress, led by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) have written to the president to encourage him to adopt such forward-leaning policies in the Nuclear Posture Review.
Adopting progressive new nuclear weapons policies in the NPR makes sense in our post-Cold War world (though this will likely be resisted by the Nuclear Priesthood in our weapons laboratories and relevant bureaucracies in the Defense and Energy Departments), but such moves are also likely necessary to convince the international community that the president is really serious about moving toward his vision of a Nuclear Weapons-Free world with actions, not just speeches. A modest new START agreement cutting the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia, currently in the final stages of negotiations, would be good, but perhaps not sufficient, to satisfy non-nuclear states who have consistently pressed the nuclear states haves to make good on their end of the NPT bargain by moving toward global nuclear disarmament.
Without serious US leadership toward disarmament, the international non-proliferation regime teeters and could collapse. An international campaign is emerging calling on Obama and other leaders of nuclear states to begin negotiations on a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons worldwide (hopefully by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings) at or before the NPT Review Conference. Such negotiations would likely take years, which is why, if we are serious, they should start as soon as possible, rather than waiting for a series of incremental arms reduction treaties to be completed before beginning discussions of the ultimate goal of eliminating the scourge of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
With only a month left before the NPR is expected to be complete, it is critical for the pro-peace and disarmament majority in the public to make our voices heard and influence the outcome of the NPR process. Admittedly, the NPR is a low-profile, arcane process, but it is very important in setting the parameters of US nuclear weapons policy, and commitment to transparency and public engagement is a guiding principle of the Obama presidency. Contact your Senators and Representatives today and request that they send letters to the President recommending an NPR that reflects Obama's vision of a nuclear weapon-free future by taking concrete steps to dismantle our stockpile and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national and global security policy.