Barack Obama on Nuclear Weapons

Last Updated : Mar 15, 2011

Summary

President Obama is a strong advocate for the reduction of nuclear weapons by formal nations, and the securing of nuclear weapons from rogue states or terrorist groups. Since assuming office, President Obama has given speeches overseas and at home that called for a world without nuclear weapons.

In April of 2010, the Defense Department issued a Nuclear Posture Review Report that made numerous significant changes to US nuclear policy. These changes included a pledge not to use nuclear weapons against any country that was abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a commitment not to build new nuclear weapons but to maintain current weapons, and a commitment to ensuring that nuclear weapons did not fall into the hands of terrorists.

The same month that the NPRR was issued, President Obama spoke at the Nuclear Security Summit and was able to secure a number of concessions from other countries to reduce the amount of nuclear material.

In 2011, President Obama signed the New START Treaty which was a 10 year treaty with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

 

2008 Campaign Website Statements

 

Prague Speech - A World Without Nuclear Weapons

In April of 2009, President Obama spoke in Prague and called for a world without nuclear weapons. He noted that more nations have access to nuclear technology and that cold war weapons still existed even though cold war adversaries did not.

 

Nuclear Posture Review Report

In April of 2010 the Defense Department issued a report reviewing the nuclear posture of the US to reflect changing realities on the ground and the plans of President Obama. The main results of the report was that the US would not develop new nuclear weapons but focus on maintaining already existing stockpiles, the US would not attack any country abiding by the NPT with nuclear weapons, and that these provisions did not apply to countries such as Iran and North Korea that were not abiding by the NPT. That report listed 5 objectives:

  • Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism;
  • Reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy;
  • Maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels;
  • Strengthening regional deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies and partners; and
  • Sustaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal.

The purpose of the review was not only to address changes to the nuclear posture of the US, but also to list the reasons why the US was changing it's policies. The report lists six implications resulting from the actions taken by the US.

  • By reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons we can put ourselves in a much stronger position to persuade our NPT partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.
  • By maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent and reinforcing regional security architectures with missile defenses and other conventional military capabilities, we can reassure our non-nuclear allies and partners worldwide of our security commitments to them and confirm that they do not need nuclear weapons capabilities of their own.
  • By pursuing a sound Stockpile Management Program for extending the life of U.S. nuclear weapons, we can ensure a safe, secure, and effective deterrent without the development of new nuclear warheads or further nuclear testing.
  • By modernizing our aging nuclear facilities and investing in human capital, we can substantially reduce the number of nuclear weapons we retain as a hedge against technical or geopolitical surprise, accelerate dismantlement of retired warheads, and improve our understanding of foreign nuclear weapons activities.
  • By promoting strategic stability with Russia and China and improving transparency and mutual confidence, we can help create the conditions for moving toward a world without nuclear weapons and build a stronger basis for addressing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
  • By working to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs and moving step-by-step toward eliminating them, we can reverse the growing expectation that we are destined to live in a world with more nuclear-armed states, and decrease incentives for additional countries to hedge against an uncertain future by pursuing nuclear options of their own.

 

Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism

To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and lower the possibility of nuclear terrorism, the report gives three actions that the US will undertake:

  • bolster the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by reversing the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and enforcing compliance with them, impeding illicit nuclear trade, and promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy without increasing proliferation risks
  • accelerating efforts to implement President Obama’s initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide in four years
  • support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and negotiation of a verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty

Following these actions was the renewed U.S. commitment to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.

 

Reducing the Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons

In discussing the reduced role of nuclear weapons, the report makes it clear that the US would not use nuclear weapons against countries that are abiding by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The report also notes that the use of such weapons is not off the table for countries such as Iran and North Korea that are not abiding by the NPT.

  • The United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.
  • The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.
  • The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

 

Strengthening Regional Deterrence and Reassuring U.S. Allies and Partners

Non-strategic nuclear weapons. The United States has reduced non-strategic (or “tactical”) nuclear weapons dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Today, it keeps only a limited number of forward deployed nuclear weapons in Europe, plus a small number of nuclear weapons stored in the United States for possible overseas deployment in support of extended deterrence to allies and partners worldwide. Russia maintains a much larger force of non-strategic nuclear weapons, a significant number of which are deployed near the territories of several North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries.

The NPR concluded that the United States will:

  • Retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers and heavy bombers, and proceed with full scope life extension for the B-61 bomb including enhancing safety, security, and use control.
  • Retire the nuclear-equipped sea-launched cruise missile (TLAM-N).
  • Continue to maintain and develop long-range strike capabilities that supplement U.S. forward military presence and strengthen regional deterrence.
  • Continue and, where appropriate, expand consultations with allies and partners to address how to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the U.S. extended deterrent. No changes in U.S. extended deterrence capabilities will be made without close consultations with our allies and partners.

The United States is committed to ensuring that its nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, and effective. Since the end of U.S. nuclear testing in 1992, our nuclear warheads have been maintained and certified as safe and reliable through a Stockpile Stewardship Program that has extended the lives of warheads by refurbishing them to nearly original specifications. Looking ahead three decades, the NPR considered how best to extend the lives of existing nuclear warheads consistent with the congressionally mandated Stockpile Management Program and U.S. non-proliferation goals, and reached the following conclusions:

  • The United States will not conduct nuclear testing and will pursue ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
  • The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.
  • The United States will study options for ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of nuclear warheads on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the congressionally mandated Stockpile Management Program. The full range of LEP approaches will be considered: refurbishment of existing warheads, reuse of nuclear components from different warheads, and replacement of nuclear components.
  • In any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead LEPs, the United States will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met, and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.

 

Nuclear Security Summit

In April of 2010, President Obama spoke at the Nuclear Security Summit. President Obama's campaign website outlined the key achievements of that summit.

  • The shipment of Chile’s highly enriched uranium to the United States
  • An agreement promising the shipment of Ukraine’s highly enriched uranium out of the country in the next two years
  • An agreement promising the shipment of used highly enriched uranium from Canada to the United States
  • A U.S.-Russia plutonium disposal agreement, under which both countries have committed to eliminate enough plutonium to support 17,000 nuclear weapons
  • An agreement from South Korea to host the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012

 

The Start Treaty

The New START Treaty was a new agreement between the US and Russia to lower the number of nuclear weapons. In November of 2010, President Obama used his weekly address to talk about his support for the START Treaty.

In February of 2011, President Obama signed the START Treaty and issued a press statement noting it's contents.

 

 

Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

This representative has not been identified as sponsoring or cosponsoring significant legislation related to this title.

References

[1] Website: Federation of American Scientists Article: United States Discloses Size of Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Author: Hans M. Kristensen Accessed on: 03/07/2011

[2] Website: Organizing for America Article: Nuclear Summit Concludes: “The American people will be safer and the world will be more secure” Author: Erica Sagrans Accessed on: 03/09/2011

[3] Website: Defense Department Article: Nuclear Posture Review Report Author: Defense Department Accessed on: 03/09/2011

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