Andy GrottoTauscher Roundtable on Nukes

Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) gave an outstanding talk to a roundtable I co-hosted this morning at the Center for American Progress, my home institution, to mark the release of a study by Joe Cirincione and me, Orienting the 2009 Nuclear Posture Review: A Roadmap. Congresswoman Tauscher, who chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, was the driving force behind the requirement in the FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill that the next administration undertake a formal nuclear posture review (NPR).

Our study makes the case for why a successful NPR should be among the Obama administration’s top priorities. I suspect this is an easy case to make to most Wonk readers.

But the study also provides a roadmap on how to structure and manage the review so that it achieves key policy objectives. The roadmap is based on lessons learned from the Clinton and Bush administration NPRs, along with some two dozen interviews and informal discussions with experts, congressional staff, and former senior officials with experience in nuclear policy from both sides of the political spectrum.

This is our basic argument:

The goals of the 2009–2010 NPR should be to recalibrate America’s nuclear deterrent in light of existing and emerging threats, strengthen America’s hand in negotiations on improvements to the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, and send a clear signal to the world that the United States is charting a new, multilateral course. Success in achieving these goals hinges on development of a coherent, realistic strategy for conducting the review that ensures senior appointees devote sustained attention even as they confront other national security challenges. The strategy should be organized according to these principles:

  • Do not politicize nuclear weapons doctrine.
  • Conduct the review as a strategy-driven exercise guided by a vision for nuclear weapons policy elaborated by the president.
  • Consult and engage the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Consult and engage Congress.
  • Appoint experienced professionals to carry out the vision.
  • Ensure that the review is interagency.
  • Consult and engage key allies and partners.

And here are some of the highlights from Congresswoman Tauscher’s remarks:

The new NPR should recommend ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Fifteen years of science-based stockpile stewardship programs have made it possible for the United States to use our brain power and scientific tools, rather than testing in the Nevada desert to ensure the reliability of our nuclear deterrent.

No other single action could send a clearer signal to the rest of the world that the United States is committed to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons and materials.

Too often we are presented with a false choice. Either maintaining an unnecessarily high level of nuclear weapons as a hedge against uncertainty which I believe would undermine our efforts to reduce global nuclear risks or allowing our arsenal to rust and corrode away.

Neither is acceptable.

From 1994 to 2004, we had a law on the books called “Spratt-Furse” that prohibited research and development of so-called mini-nukes. It was important because of the signal it sent to the world that the United States was not looking for new applications for nuclear weapons.

As we embark into the next phase of stockpile stewardship, we should renew the Spratt-Furse law, so our intentions are clear.


  1. Wonkmeister (History)


    I just read through your NPR report. Its a good overview of the status of the issues and a good roadmap for the next Administration, but the numbers of operationally deployed weapons you cite are too high by about a factor of two as reported in the annual Moscow Treaty report. I only make this comment because reports such as these consistantly over report the actual number of weapons that can be used. All the weapons at Pantex just don’t matter.

  2. Andy Grotto

    Wonkmeister —

    Thanks for reading the report. But I think you’ve confused our figures. The stockpile figures we cite, as noted in the study, come from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist’s annual Nuclear Notebook compiled by Norris and Kristensen, which for the United States (indicated in our first chart, “Global Nuclear Stockpiles”) includes estimates of both the active (which reflects the SORT declarations) and inactive stockpiles as of January 2008.

    Best wishes….Andy

  3. Distiller (History)

    In this quite well rounded pdf linked above I’m missing the question of the influence of BMD on the stability of MAD deterrence, be that influence real, only perceived, or just a pretense.

    Another thing: In my mind any new treaty has to include the reserve/spare warheads. It’s no use settling for a – realistic – 1700 strategic warheads (operational), but having another 3000 or so in the basement, just in case.

    And any new treaty should be open to all nuclear parties, esp the Chinese, not only the U.S. and Russia.

  4. Rabia Akhtar (History)

    Thankyou for putting up such an important issue which is not only crucial for the Americans but also for the rest of the world—as to how should the US review its nuclear posture. I have read your report and i find it interesting on two aspects. First, thankyou for bringing out the issue of US non compliance to Art VI of NPT which is important if the US wants the rest of the world to shun futher development of nuclear weapons and consider disarmament as a legitimate realistic objective. Second, maintaining nuclear forces on high alert levels which is more destabilizing for international security than anyother state achieving nuclear status. Over the past eight years, the international community has lost faith in the US leadership with respect to fullfilliment of its obligations and use of coercive diplomacy to pursue other states for unilateral non proliferation and arms control measures. Let me state here that, no amount of non proliferation and counter proliferation initiatives are going to make this world a safer place. Instead actions such as those suggested by Congresswoman Tauscher, are the only way perhaps to restore faith of the international community in US leadership and commitment. The world is waiting.

  5. Major Lemon (History)

    Besides reviewing the maintenance of existing stockpiles, why not give the new President a chance to formulate a coherent foreign policy first? (I’m not standing on one foot waiting).