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Long-Range Bombers at the Ukrainka Air Base in Russia’s Far East 51 10N 128 27E
The Obama administration is updating the
guidance that will lead to the creation of a new U.S. nuclear war plan
and determine the size and structure of U.S. nuclear forces. Here is the
state of play. Coming up, look for what the new guidance should say.
Background and Status
In April 2010, the Obama administration completed its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). Now, after numerous delays,
it has begun the process that will implement the NPR’s decisions. This
is being done via a two-part approach that is unlike the ones used by
previous administrations. The first step has been described as
developing the President’s “vision,” elaborating on the NPR. The second
step is revising the employment policy for nuclear weapons (the war
plans) and the force structure.
Step one formally began with new presidential guidance:
Presidential Policy Directive 11 (PPD-11), which provided terms of
reference for a Pentagon-led review that will provide options to
President Obama based on the policies outlined in the NPR. Initially, the review was supposed to be completed in the
spring or summer of 2011, but that timeline slipped. In May 2011, the
Pentagon’s Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Jim
Miller, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces
subcommittee, said this about the process: “We’ve had some initial
discussions about both its content and the time line. We expect that
when we do get presidential guidance to initiate the study, it will take
several months.” PPD-11 was finally issued this summer and work on the review
formally began in early August. Described at one point by Miller as a
90-day “NPR Implementation Study,” a number of meetings were held in
December to provide input to the administration’s FY2013 budget request.
That request will be submitted in February, but decisions are generally
made before the end of the calendar year. The timeline for finishing the Pentagon-led study is now
roughly similar to the budget time line. If things go as expected, the
President should receive the study outcome later this month or in early
February. Apparently, the analysis is completed, but has yet to be
turned into a clear, defined set of options.
The NPR has a number of areas where further
elaboration is possible. For example, it says: “The United States will
continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of
nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, with the objective of
making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies
and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.” The study, one
would imagine, could look at what steps would be required to meet that
The study is also looking at possible additional reductions in
U.S. nuclear forces, to serve as guidance for the desired next round of
treaty negotiations with the Russians following up on New START.
Officials have stated they would like those negotiations to include all
nuclear weapons, meaning tactical and strategic, and deployed and
non-deployed forces. The administration’s nominal deadline for an
agreement with Russia is prior to the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty Review Conference, but given the rocky state of U.S.-Russian
relations at present, all bets are off. Another related question being considered is the future of the
strategic triad. This or the next administration will face essential
decisions about how and whether to replace each leg, starting first with
SSBNs, then the bomber, and finally the ICMB leg. The recent budget
debates have highlighted how expensive that proposition would be and
some military commanders, including former Vice Chair of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, have stated that the United
States cannot afford to replace the triad as it now exists.
The Pentagon-led review is being directed by
the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, presumably with
Jim Miller taking the lead. The process is similar to that for the NPR:
an interagency team that includes the State Department, the White
House’s National Security staff, the Department of Energy, and the
Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House and the
military is developing options to present to the President. The Office
of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff (who serve the Joint Chiefs
of Staff), U.S. Strategic Command, and the services are all
participating for the military. However, in this case, the information
is much more tightly held and fewer people are participating than was
the case for the NPR. In addition, officials are unable to say publicly
who exactly is participating in the process, but merely that an agency
Will the options given the President
represent the “end to Cold War thinking” he has called for? The answer
is unclear, but apparently some in uniform are resisting significant
changes. Specifically, the new head of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen.
Robert Kehler, seems inclined to a more cautious approach than his
predecessor Gen. Cartwright has advocated.
Once the study is completed, the President
will use it to develop and issue the second piece of presidential
guidance, another PPD that provides overall, high-level direction to the
military for the use of nuclear weapons. Through a long, involved process,
that PPD will lead to a new target set, new detailed war plans, and
revised required force levels. As Miller testified before the House in
November, “This NPR implementation study will be followed by new
presidential guidance and then in succession the Secretary of Defense
and chairman of the Joint Chiefs will then issue more detailed planning
guidance to the military, and then STRATCOM will revise its military
When pressed for more details on the process,
including who was participating in the study, Miller deferred all
additional questions to the White House.
The timeline for the process to complete the
next round of guidance is unclear. Preparing the new PDD will presumably
take some months, and turning that into a new war plan could take 18
months or longer.
According to officials, the second PPD will replace at least
two Bush administration guidance documents, National Security Policy
Directive 10 (NSPD #10) titled “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces,” and NSPD
#14, “Nuclear Weapons Planning Guidance,” both from 2002. The former,
done in tandem with the Bush Nuclear Posture Review, formally set the
level of 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic nuclear forces announced by
President Bush in November 2001 and later agreed upon by Russia in the
“Moscow Treaty.” The latter formally led to the creation of the Bush
administration’s new nuclear war plan, and it was on the basis of that
plan and follow-on documents that the Obama administration set its
positions for and negotiated the New START agreement. Other Bush-era guidance could also be updated or replaced,
including NSPD #28, “United States Nuclear Weapons Command and Control,
Safety, and Security” from 2003 and NSPD #34, “Fiscal Year 2004-2012
Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Plan” from 2004. NSPD #28 focuses on ensuring
U.S. nuclear weapons and warheads work only when authorized and not
otherwise, and protecting critical information and information systems.
One of the priorities for the 2010 NPR was to increase the President’s
decision-making time, which will depend on robust command and control
systems. NSPD #34 implemented the second round of reductions in the U.S.
stockpile that the Bush administration publicly declared in June 2004,
and reduced the total U.S. nuclear stockpile, including deployed and
reserve forces, by “almost half.”
Posted in: Nuclear Weapons
Tags: nuclear posture review, nuclear weapons
About the author: Mr.
Young has an MA in International Affairs from Columbia University. He
served as a fellow in the Bureau of Human Rights at the State
Department, as Senior Information Specialist at ACCESS: A Security
Information Service, as Co-Legislative Director of 20/20 Vision, as
Senior Analyst at the British American Security Information Council, and
as Deputy Director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, a
national alliance of 17 major nuclear disarmament organizations. He
joined UCS in 2001.
Areas of expertise: U.S. nuclear weapons policy, nuclear terrorism,
ballistic missile defense, arms control and international security,
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