A State Department advisory board report made public Tuesday shows that the Obama administration is studying cuts in U.S. strategic arsenals to “very low” levels and ultimately eliminating nuclear arms.
The advisory board, headed by former Defense Secretary William Perry, reflects themes promoted by liberal arms control and disarmament officials in the administration and calls for a new U.S. nuclear doctrine dubbed “mutual assured stability” based on better relations with Russia.
The current nuclear doctrine is “mutual assured destruction,” in which both the United States and Russia maintain balanced nuclear forces that threaten the destruction of cities and nuclear forces to deter a nuclear war.
According to the report, the board studied “an end state defined by the narrower issue of a world with drastically reduced (and ultimately eliminated) nuclear arsenals, and associated reductions in security challenges which could drive nations to the acquisition and/or use of nuclear weapons.”
Another concept examined by the board was working to create a future that is “a cooperative world of ‘increased transparency and trust’ without ‘adversarial challenges’ in which [nuclear deterrence] is no longer necessary.”
The report said that the cooperative world scenario “may be unrealistic to achieve in an acceptable timeframe” and focused instead on how to cut nuclear arsenals.
The report calls for conciliatory policies toward Russia and dialogue involving “cooperative security” efforts designed to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict.
It also calls for a review with Russia on missile defenses.
The report identifies “destabilizing” risks associated with deep cuts in nuclear weapons. They include the need to increase intelligence and bolster defenses against weapons of mass destruction, as well as the shortcomings of using conventional weapons as a replacement for nuclear deterrence.
The report also mentions one potentially destabilizing result of deploying a very small nuclear force as “nuclear forces, albeit progressively smaller in size, but not adequately sized and maintained, and with a force structure and posture not appropriately tailored for circumstances and uncertainty.” It also warns that there are risks that reducing nuclear arms will undermine U.S. nuclear deterrence provided to allies in Asia and Europe.
Near-term actions for moving toward mutually assured stability recommended in the report include holding talks with Russia on nuclear stability and missile defenses.
Russia’s government in recent months has issued threats to conduct preemptive attacks on U.S. missile defenses in Europe as a result of plans for building European defenses.
Moscow for several years has demanded legally binding restrictions on U.S. missile defenses, a position rejected so far by the Obama administration.
The president’s open-microphone promise to Russia’s leader of “more flexibility” after his presumed reelection has raised concerns among national security Republicans about future talks with Russia.
Russian strategic nuclear bombers also recently conducted air defense identification zone incursions near Alaska and California and a Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine was said by U.S. officials to have sailed undetected in the Gulf of Mexico.
The saber rattling appears to be part of what U.S. officials say is a growing military assertiveness by Russia.
The State Department report joins a separate Pentagon study called the Nuclear Posture Review implementation that is also examining deep cuts in nuclear warhead levels. Officials familiar with the study say it is looking at cutting U.S. deployed warheads to as few as 300 warheads—smaller than China’s current arsenal. Other levels in that study include a force of some 800 warheads or around 1,000 warheads.
Under the 2010 U.S.-Russia New START treaty, deployed warhead levels will be cut to 1,550, a level U.S. Strategic Command officials have said is what is needed to maintain nuclear deterrence against Russia and other nuclear states.
The board report also recommended downgrading the nuclear threat from Russia by changing doctrine and posture “away from defining our nuclear posture based on perception of Russia as the primary threat, toward a doctrine of general deterrence, a posture in which attacks from any direction are discouraged, without singling out a particular adversary or enemy.”
The report also called for greater “clarity and assurance” with Russia to build trust through sharing launch data, providing advance notice of new weapons, declaring fissile material stocks, and working to develop a response to the use of a nuclear weapons some place in the world.
The board was directed by former Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher to study “the possible components of mutual assured stability and what the United States would need to see happening to have the confidence to consider very low numbers and, eventually, agree to the elimination of nuclear weapons.”
The board’s objective appears to support President Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague when he called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
However, the U.S. Strategic Command commander, Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, told reporters earlier this month that the idea of eliminating all nuclear weapons is premature because other states are not likely to give up their arms.
Kehler said, “we’re not there yet,” in terms of nuclear disarmament.
Among the board members who took part in the nuclear study were Joe Cirincione, president of the anti-nuclear Ploughshares Fund; Harvard professor Graham Allison, a Pentagon adviser during the Clinton administration; former Clinton administration Pentagon policymaker Walt Slocombe; and liberal, anti-nuclear Republican Brent Scowcroft, a former White House National Security Adviser during the George H.W. Bush administration.