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Nuclear Posture Review Knocked Back to March 2010

3:04 PM, Jan 6, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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 Solid score from Josh Rogin over at Foreign Policy, who reports that the much anticipated Nuclear Posture Review -- a DoD force structuring plan for America's nuclear weapons -- will be delayed an additional month. The Pentagon announcement comes on the same day that the Los Angeles Times reported that the DoD and White House were locking horns over our first-strike policy, the shape of our nuclear force, and how the NPR will affect the upcoming START follow on treaty.

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None of this is very surprising. The NPR is torn between military strategists, White House officials, and the Russians. The White House wants aggressive cuts to our nuclear forces, with seemingly no regard to nuclear strategy. The Russians are lecturing us on cutting our ballistic missile submarines and ICBMs, while they pump billions into new ICBMs, supersonic bombers, and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. The Pentagon appears to be the only even broker in this mess, arguing for pragmatic cuts to our nuclear war reserves and active stockpiles, which should fulfill treaty requirements without compromising national security.

Somewhere, Obama is going to have to bend. The Pentagon has indicated their willingness (eagerness, even) to provide a full classified briefing to key members of the House and Senate. The hard data and intelligence defense planners operate with is what's guiding their stubborness over nuclear cuts, where the White House seems to be lightly armed with talking points and ideology. Color me overly optimistic, but I suspect the metrics will win out in the end -- particulary with an old Strategic Air Command hat serving as Secretary of Defense.

I'll wager a prediction: we move down to around 1,500 warheads, which will be accomplished by de-MIRVing our ICBMs, plugging up a few launcher tubes on the subs, and reducing our inactive stockpile. In exchange, the Pentagon may have to kill its long-standing first-use policy. Finally, it may be difficult for Obama to push START ratification through the Senate without some sort of language on sustaining the nukes that do survive the cuts. I highly doubt he ressurects the Reliable Replacement Warhead, but Senate deterrence champs like Kyl and Lieberman will likely ensure that our strategic forces are well maintained for the next few decades. 

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