OPED22 NPR - Not your father's public radio...

In 2001 when Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, the legislation required that the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Secretary of Energy conduct a comprehensive review of US nuclear forces. They were to develop a long-range plan for the modernization of US strategic nuclear forces. This review is known as the Nuclear Posture Review - NPR. This NPR, the second (the first was in 1994), was completed and submitted to Congress 1/8/2002. The majority of the report was classified, but the unclassified portions were presented in a DoD news briefing - Special Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review
In March the classified portion was leaked and became public NPR excerpts on globalsecurity.org, immediately causing a furore by naming countries that might be nuclear targets, and also seeming to endorse the use of nuclear weapons. The story was broken by a couple of articles in the LA Times.

The following links can be used to examine the topic of nuclear weapons:

Nuclear Review Resources:
The Nuclear Posture Review: Reading Between the Lines
National Resources Defense Council press release
Center for Security Policy Nuclear Page
Nuclear Military Balance - CSIS
FAS Nuclear Resources Links
CDI Nuclear page

Since the reports surfaced the administration has backtracked a bit, saying this report was about possibilities/scenarios and not doctrine. However, it is evident that consideration is being paid to the possible development and use of tactical nuclear weapons. And even before this one could occasionally hear calls for the use of tactical nuclear weapons e.g. when the US was attacking the Tora Bora cave complex in Afghanistan a Republican Indiana congressman suggested that the use of nuclear weapons should be considered to destroy and seal up the caves.
Given the above, it is hard to understand where the NPR and the administration seem to be sending US nuclear doctrine. Another confusing thing is the proposed "reduction" of the US nuclear force. President Bush and Russian President Putin discussed significant cutbacks in nuclear warheads, and the administration speaks of the US reducing its nuclear arsenal from its current level of approximately 10,650 warheads to 1,700 - 2,200 by 2012. This reduction allows for a more than sufficient nuclear deterrent, while recognizing that the previous levels are unnecessary given the changed world situation. However, this was followed by the announcement that the warheads reduced would not be decommissioned and destroyed but would be put in storage.
Thus the "reduction" from 10,650 to 2,000 would be achieved by changing the terms of the debate - while currently all warheads are counted, under the administration's plan only "operationally deployed warheads" are counted while ignoring all those in testing, being overhauled or upgraded, or in storage. If you continue to count all the categories the US stock will only be reduced from 10,650 to approximately 9,980 by 2012 (see graph). While the reduction in deployed warheads will result in reduced risk it is hard to understand why the 'reduced' warheads will be kept in storage. The 2,200 active warheads are already many times more than might ever be needed, so it is difficult to see a circumstance under which the other warheads might be pulled out of storage and used!

In conclusion, the administration's NPR seems somewhat confused. On the one hand it discusses doing research to develop smaller, tactical nuclear devices (implicitly agreeing that the majority of the weapons in the current nuclear arsenal are weapons without suitable targets, present or future) while at the same time keeping these increasingly redundant weapons.

© SNi 03/21/2002