Obama Administration Unveils New Nuclear Policy Every new administration conducts a Nuclear Posture Review, which outlines the government position on the use of nuclear weapons. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the Obama administration's new policy.

Obama Administration Unveils New Nuclear Policy

Obama Administration Unveils New Nuclear Policy

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Every new administration conducts a Nuclear Posture Review, which outlines the government position on the use of nuclear weapons. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the Obama administration's new policy.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Nuclear proliferation and deterrents are at the top of President Obama's policy agenda this week. On Thursday, he'll be in Prague. There, Mr. Obama and Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, are scheduled to sign a new START treaty to dramatically reduce the two nation's nuclear arsenals. We'll have more on that in a moment. But, first, the administration today announced changes in its approach to the development and potential use of nuclear weapons.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports on what's called the nuclear posture review.

DON GONYEA: This story actually starts in April of last year in Prague, where Mr. Obama, speaking to a massive outdoor crowd, delivered the most important speech of his presidency so far, dealing with nuclear issues.

President BARACK OBAMA: So, today, I state clearly and with conviction, America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: Now, a year later comes the new Nuclear Posture Review, a document mandated by Congress, in which the White House lays out the role nuclear weapons play in national security strategy. The review, released today, asserts that the U.S. can reduce stockpiles and limit the potential use of nuclear weapons without diminishing its military superiority or ability to deter aggression.

At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke of perhaps the biggest shift the document lays out, that the U.S. won't use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries with the following caveat...

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Department): If a non-nuclear weapon state is in compliance with the non-proliferation treaty in its obligations, the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.

GONYEA: But that pledge does not cover two nations whose nuclear ambitions are a major concern for the administration: Iran and North Korea. As for threats posed by biological and chemical weapons, the White House says that conventional weapons provide deterrents there. And on this point, Gates specifically added that the U.S. reserves the right to make adjustments as warranted.

Joining Gates were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also there was Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who noted that the review also says testing and development of new nuclear weapons will be halted.

Secretary STEVEN CHU (Energy Department): Our laboratory directors and a host of other outside technical reviews have been very clear that our life extension programs can maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of the stockpile without testing.

GONYEA: At the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, analyst Tom Donnelly said that part of the Nuclear Posture Review is troubling. He says it's right to move away from a posture weighted to deal with Russia's huge nuclear arsenal, but that should be coupled with the development and testing of new, smaller, less destructive nuclear weapons to deal with threats from places like Iran and North Korea.

Mr. TOM DONNELLY (American Enterprise Institute): The most significant development is the administration's promise not to do anything new. That is, not to modernize our Cold War legacy force. So, we don't have a good response for things that our conventional forces would have a hard time handling.

GONYEA: But Sharon Squassoni at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the steps the White House takes in this review are important in that they don't just envision fewer nuclear weapons, but how to function without them.

Ms. SHARON SQUASSONI (Center for Strategic and International Studies): When the United States, the preeminent military power, with thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons says, hey, we don't need these weapons to deter a wide range of threats, that is not only a very important thing, literally, to say, but also symbolically.

GONYEA: And Squassoni says such a position enhances U.S. credibility as it asks other nations to take difficult steps needed to effectively deal with nuclear proliferation globally.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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