Nuclear Posture Review Released, Stresses Flexible Force Planning

By Bleek, Philipp C. | Arms Control Today, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Posture Review Released, Stresses Flexible Force Planning


Bleek, Philipp C., Arms Control Today


NEWS AND NEGOTIATIONS

A BUSH ADMINISTRATION review of nuclear weapons policy wrapped up in early January, emphasizing flexibility in the U.S. force posture but providing few details on the implementation of planned reductions in the deployed U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal.

Administration representatives briefed Congress January 8 on the results of the classified nuclear posture review, and J. D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, publicly laid out some elements of the review in a January 9 press briefing. Mandated by the fiscal year 2001 defense authorization act, the Bush administration's review is the first such analysis conducted since 1994.

Crouch said that the review's findings were based on two key assumptions about the current global security environment. First, the United States has a more positive relationship with Russia, and the Bush administration hopes to end "the relationship with Russia that is based on mutual assured destruction," which Crouch termed "inappropriate." Second, Crouch said that future threats to the United States were uncertain, consisting of "multiple... potential sources of conflict."

Crouch indicated that, because of these changes, the administration planned to move away from a "threat based" approach, which sized U.S. nuclear forces in relation to the Soviet and Russian arsenals, and toward a "capability based" approach that would provide the broadest possible range of options for responding to a variety of security challenges.

Under this new approach, Crouch indicated the administration hoped to shift emphasis away from offensive nuclear forces and augment the U.S. strategic posture with enhanced conventional capabilities and missile defenses, an arrangement he termed a "new triad."

According to Crouch, the United States will maintain its current nuclear force structure but will substantially reduce the number of operationally deployed warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012, as President George W. Bush had announced November 13. (See ACT, December 2001.) Crouch said that deployed strategic forces would be reduced to 3,800 warheads by fiscal year 2007, at which time the administration would assess how to implement the remaining reductions.

The planned reductions will also be subject to periodic reassessment, and the administration "may decide" that reductions should be halted, that deployed forces must be increased, or that they can be reduced further or faster than currently planned, Crouch indicated. Such shifts would be driven by changes in the security environment or by changes in the U.S. ability to field "new elements of the triad."

Crouch also indicated that the key weapons systems-ICBMs, submarinelaunched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and bombers-that constitute the current U.S. strategic nuclear force would be maintained through "2020 and beyond," although he did note that potential "follow-on systems" would be studied. The briefing made no reference to tactical nuclear weapons, of which the United States currently deploys several hundred and stockpiles in operational condition more than 1,000.

Crouch indicated that some of the warheads removed from service as part of the administration's reductions would be destroyed. But he said that the administration also plans to allocate some of the warheads to a "responsive force" of operationally maintained warheads that could be used to augment deployed nuclear forces within weeks, months, or years should the need arise. Crouch indicated that there had been "no final decisions" on how many weapons would be stockpiled.

The United States currently stockpiles an estimated 2,500 warheads in operational condition in an "active reserve" and another 2,500, whose limited-life components, such as batteries, have been removed, in an "inactive reserve." Crouch said that the new "responsive force" would be part of, but distinct from, the active reserve, although he did not specify how the two would differ. …

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