The Fight Over The Nuclear Posture Review

The Congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) will be a crucial test of President Obama’s commitment to reducing nuclear weapons. The NPR will lay out a new US nuclear strategy and should set the stage for future budgetary decisions regarding the nuclear force. In other words, there is a lot of money on the line in this document, which means there will be a ton of resistance to change, especially from inside the Pentagon.

The LA Times lays out the state of play in the on going bureaucratic fight between the White House and the Pentagon:

Officials in the Pentagon and elsewhere have pushed back against Obama administration proposals to cut the number of weapons and narrow their mission, according to U.S. officials and outsiders who have been briefed on the process. In turn, White House officials, unhappy with early Pentagon-led drafts of the blueprint known as the Nuclear Posture Review, have stepped up their involvement in the deliberations and ordered that the document reflect Obama’s preference for sweeping change.

The stakes are high. An NPR that fails to put in place the steps for future reductions in US nuclear forces, will greatly undermine Obama’s credibility and therefore the global nuclear non-proliferation agenda. To put it bluntly, if you can’t even get your own government which you control to follow your lead, you won’t be able to lead globally.


It is no surprise that initial drafts out of the Pentagon were anything but ambitious and that the White House is having to get directly involved in pushing back. The Pentagon’s bureaucracy instinctively opposes anything that would force it to change and a far reaching NPR could require significant modifications in force structure, such as to the Air Force’s nuclear bomber force. In the opening of his piece on the NPR, Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe colorfully captured how stuck in its ways the Pentagon remains, despite tectonic shifts in the global landscape.

After an hour-long ride down a nearly deserted highway covered in ice and snow, the two young officers arrive for their shift at this highly secure outpost deep in the northern Rockies. Air Force Captain Chris Ferrer and Lieutenant Moses George, carrying a bulky orange briefcase of secret codes, descend some 75 feet underground to a capsule protected by a 4-foot-thick door of steel and concrete. They will spend the next 24 hours ready to receive a presidential command to launch dozens of nuclear missiles from silos buried across north-central Montana. It is a routine that is virtually unchanged from the 1960s. The targets, most of them in Russia, also remain largely unchanged from the Cold War.

What a gigantic waste of time and money. Nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War, we spend billions of dollars and divert the energies of numerous military personnel to the task of preparing for a nuclear war against an adversary that no longer exists. Yet no matter how asinine and outdated the Pentagon’s approach is, getting them to move beyond the Cold War and into the 21st century is the first big hurdle Obama will confront in his efforts to combat nuclear proliferation.