Obama nuke policy echoes Bush doctrine

Freedom New Mexico

The most telling thing that can be said about the Nuclear Posture Review, the occasional statement of U.S. doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons updated last week by President Barack Obama, is that it is virtually the same as the Bush administration’s doctrine, announced in 2001. There is a difference in tone, and a few modest steps in the direction of more-limited authorization to use nuclear arms. But even those changes have conditions and exceptions.

The new posture review says the U.S. will use nuclear weapons only against states that either have nuclear weapons or states that are not in the Non Proliferation Treaty, or that are signatories but are defying their obligations. Those parameters could apply to North Korea and Iran and, possibly, Pakistan, Israel and Syria. Almost any kind of attack from these countries could bring a nuclear response, so the notion that the U.S. would endure a biological or chemical attack from these countries without even thinking about nuclear retaliation seems inaccurate.

In addition, the review says the U.S. will not develop new nuclear weapons but will put more resources into nuclear weapons labs like Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore, presumably to make sure these older weapons are kept up to snuff. This is in contrast to the Bush administration, which held out the possibility of commissioning new weapons, but, in fact, did not do so.

Depending on interpretation, and that’s important, because these kinds of statements always have some ambiguous and possibly contradictory policies, in the hope that ambiguity itself will be a deterrent.

This Posture Review also tries to integrate itself into President Obama’s stated goal of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons, although he has said he doesn’t expect it in his lifetime. Presidents across the spectrum have expressed this aspiration, including Ronald Reagan, who took steps in that direction. But things may be more complicated now, with “rogue” states like North Korea and Iran acquiring or desiring nukes, and Pakistan having an arsenal. Perhaps, in a way, things were simpler during the Cold War.

This Posture Review is not directly connected to the Strategic Arm Reduction Treaty with the Russians, which will go into effect this week. But it is mentioned, which underlines that the eventual goal is mutual reduction of warheads. Even this reduction of reliance on nuclear weapons is balanced by provisions calling for closer conventional military cooperation with various allies, which happens to be significantly more expansive.

We’re not sure if the program to keep current nuclear systems in working order is robust enough; these weapons have a way of degrading over time. But building new models of older systems does not seem to be ruled out.

As Ted Carpenter, the libertarian Cato Institute’s vice president for foreign policy and defense studies, told us, changes in the Obama Nuclear Posture Review are “about 95 percent rhetorical.” That seems about right.