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What’s Holding Up the Nuclear Posture Review?

Is Obama trying to take the nuclear arsenal down to fewer than 1,000 warheads for the first time since the Truman administration?

8:59 PM, Jan 6, 2010 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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But I asked around and experts assured me that the report was not true; the real floor was going to be 1,500, a level most (but not all) nuclear professionals—uniformed and civilian—could live with.  In addition, the story was not picked up by any American papers.  Another thing I should have known: never trust British reporting on Washington until you see it somewhere else.

But now it is in an American paper.  Does that make it true?  It makes me believe it more.  And it helps explain the delay, and the sudden appearance of so many fraught stories about a seemingly mundane report to Congress.

In truth, this NPR is anything but mundane.  For one thing, it appears likely that it will espouse a lot of naïve, dangerous rhetoric plucked from the Nuclear Freeze era.  For another, it puts the cart before the horse.  It’s well known that the administration is trying hard to negotiate with the Russians a follow-on treaty to START I, which expired last December 5th (and whose simple extension provisions were not invoked).  That we are negotiating such an agreement before we have figured out what our own force requirements are is troubling.  The last time the U.S. went though this exercise (in 2001), we at least put the horse before the cart.  We calculated our force requirements then used that as the basis for a new treaty (the so-called “Moscow Treaty”).  This time, the delay in finishing the NPR may well be in order to allow the new treaty to be finished first, to that the NPR can be backfilled with rationalizations for all the concessions Obama administration officials are busy making to the Russians.

No doubt the latter would be delighted to set a mutual deployed strategic warhead level of 1,000.  It allows them to maintain parity at much lower cost.  Plus, if the new treaty—like all its predecessors—remains silent on tactical warheads, the Russians (who have thousands more than we do) will once again reap a sizable advantage.  Worst still, a 1,000 warhead level suddenly appears to be a plausible goal for China to reach should Beijing decide to make nuclear parity a trilateral instead of a bilateral game.

There’s a lot riding on this document, or at least on the policy that it will spell out.  Here’s to hoping they get it right.  I for one am not hopeful.

Michael Anton is a writer in New York who served in national security positions in the Bush administration.

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