Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Chapter 8, Part 1

Chapter 8: Now in the United States
Part 1: Nuclear Posture Review

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

To what extent can Obama reduce the role of nuclear weapons?

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama has increased the international momentum for the abolition of nuclear weapons. At the same time, Mr. Obama must sustain the efforts that earned him the prize and lead the United States through some significant challenges that lie ahead. In this series of articles, we will explore the possibility of nuclear abolition from the standpoint of the efforts being made by the United States.

The Obama administration is set to complete the nation's "Nuclear Posture Review" (NPR) by the end of the year and submit it to Congress. Reportedly, the U.S. Defense Department is playing a central role in working out the details of the NPR, including defining the role of its current nuclear arsenal.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported in late September that Mr. Obama had rejected the Pentagon's first draft of the NPR. That draft was considered "too timid."

"The NPR will be completed soon. We had to act immediately," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a private group in Washington lobbying Congress through the cooler autumn weather.

In late September, an open letter was sent to President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama by 13 U.S experts in security and nuclear disarmament. Mr. Young was one of the experts who drafted the letter, which urged the leaders to confirm that "the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter, and if necessary respond to, the use of nuclear weapons by other countries." In line with this "no first use" pledge, nuclear weapons would only be used in response to suffering a nuclear strike.

The reason the letter was also sent to Prime Minister Hatoyama is due to the previous Japanese administration's desire not to have the U.S. declare a policy of "no first use," which stiffened the resolve of those in the U.S. who are opposed to nuclear disarmament. Neither Mr. Hatoyama, who, in his address to the United Nations this past September, said he aspires "to play a leading role in pursuing a nuclear-free world," nor Mr. Obama has replied to the letter as yet.

A study session on U.S. nuclear forces, organized by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank, was held in Washington at the beginning of October.

Andrew Krepinevich, president of the think tank, expressed a skeptical view of the Obama administration, saying, "I think there have been a lot of countries that have voiced general support for 'a world without nuclear weapons.' I talked to a person from the Japanese government who was quite worried that the U.S. is moving too fast and not taking into consideration Japan's position. For example, China has a nuclear arsenal and North Korea is building its nuclear capability. What Japan would like to see is a counterweight." Based on this traditional argument from Japan, Mr. Krepinevich called for preserving the current role of nuclear weapons.

President Obama touched upon the Nuclear Posture Review in his address to the UN General Assembly, declaring, "We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons." This is why Mr. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His political skill in advancing this agenda is now being tested.

(Originally published on October 14, 2009)

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