February 18, 2013
On the heels of a North Korean nuclear weapon test, U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing to move forward with a new approach to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The changes have been a long time coming. Obama outlined a vision for a world without nuclear weapons in a 2009 speech. After securing initial reductions in a New Start treaty with Russia, administration officials discussed deeper cuts, but progress was stalled during the 2012 presidential campaign.
With a new four years in office, greater reductions are coming. Yet basic philosophical differences about the future role of nuclear weapons could fuel a backlash among Republicans.
Obama gave the issue a brief mention in his State of the Union address last week: “We will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead,” Obama said.
Obama is preparing to endorse a plan that calls for revisions to the nation's nuclear strategy and discusses the possibility of a one-third reduction to the arsenal, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The document does not call for immediate changes to the nuclear force; rather, officials are seeking to negotiate further reductions in nuclear weapons with Russia.
USMC Gen. (ret.) James Cartwright, a former vice chief of staff, participated in administration talks about reducing the nuclear force and is an outspoken advocate of the need to revamp it. The difficulty that the U.S. has with Iran and North Korea is symptomatic of a larger problem facing the globe—that even though nuclear weapons are expensive, nations that truly want the weapons can obtain them, Cartwright said over the summer. The relationship between the U.S. and Russia on nuclear weapons is governed by a sense of responsibility. But now a nation would export its nuclear capability to a third party that operates outside the bounds of global governance. “The response to that is not a nuclear response,” Cartwright said.
Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, agrees. “We can reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal, potentially saving billions of dollars and strengthening national security, while at the same time maintaining a strong deterrent and the ability to destroy any entity that threatens our nation with nuclear weapons,” he said.