Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Nuclear Posture Review: The Long View

There are a number of ways to look at the NPR, and I hope to hit several of them in several posts. But I think that the most important aspects of this NPR are broad and long-term.

The first NPR was in 1993; the idea of such a review came from the demise of the Soviet Union, the loss of that strategic rivalry, and the much-reduced probability of general nuclear war. This is the third NPR, and the first to begin to reorient away from the Cold War.

The mood in 1993 was naively festive; there was an expectation that all that Cold War hostility would just melt away. The US and Russia have many reasons to be wary of each other, so that early mood would have dissolved in any case. But George Bush and the neocons he put in positions of power went much further.

The Bush administration took a generally belligerent stance, along with an unwillingness to discuss nuclear strategy beyond wanting new nuclear weapons, combined with its embrace of preventive war and the apparent neocon desire for a renewed rivalry with Russia. For these and other reasons, relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated. Even so, the Russians continued to press for arms control negotiations, particularly toward replacement of the START I agreement that lapsed last December, and the Bush administration blew them off. Other negotiations, for example, in the Conference on Disarmament, got short shrift from the United States, as did the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review conference.

Barack Obama came to the presidency with the intention of moving toward no nuclear weapons, but first he had to tone down both the rhetoric and fears between the two nations. The simple fact of being willing to negotiate a new START agreement began that process. Achieving an agreement that reduces numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles and keeps improved verification procedures in place was the next step, confirmed in Prague by the two presidents today.

The NPR is another step along the way. A number of specifics, like the qualified no-first-use pledge and the statement that there will be no new weapons designed, move away from the saber-rattling of the Bush years and reverse the destabilizing ambiguity that President Bush favored. That’s significant; the direction has been turned 180 degrees.

Jeffrey Lewis sees this as a pivot point where nuclear policy begins to catch up with the reality of the end of the Soviet Union and that today’s dangers are nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. He sees this pivot point as extending across the many current nuclear happenings: New START, the NPR, and the upcoming nuclear summit and NPT Review Conference.

Ward Wilson sees the NPR as what President Obama wanted, and that what he wanted was a consensus. That’s important, and it leads into what I see as some of the important things about this NPR.

The entire document is unclassified and on the Web. There will be no smirking of “all options are on the table.” The options are there and readable by everyone. If the administration strays too far from what it has said, we can point that out. It means that within the bureaucracy there will be no excuses that they had the wrong classified annex when they made that decision or that they couldn’t find page 273 of their copy. It is a message that this administration thinks that accountability is important and intends to stand by its words.

The rollout on Tuesday was explicitly interagency, with the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Energy and their question-answering representatives all there. The interagency nature of the document was emphasized, too, with listing of the task forces and committees that contributed. That’s an important message, too: the whole administration is on board with this. No secret meetings in the basement of the Pentagon, no cabals at the National Laboratories. Well, some of the latter might show up after a while, but they will have been marginalized by this interagency solidarity.

The administration, as is becoming customary, held a phone conference for bloggers with some high-up officials. They are happy to talk to everyone.

And a prosaic, but I think important, point. he words “work plan” were repeated at the rollout and in the phone conference. I’ve both used and resisted project management. It has its place and its appropriate level of application, and the developers of the NPR have applied it well. I have to admit to having read only the Executive Summary and skimmed the rest at this point, but the Executive Summary is a gem of project management. All the issues are neatly broken down (as neatly as anything like this can be), and the bullet points are clear and relevant, linked to actions.

So the overall message is that we are working toward a nuclear-free world with the Russians, arms control and more is back on the table, and we’re doing it in a serious way that will direct actions.

Crossposted at Obsidian Wings and American Footprints.

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