The Nuclear Posture Review as Assertive Multilateralism
At the Pentagon press briefing to roll out the Nuclear Posture Review — read the entire document, all of it unclassified, here — Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn’t address any discrepancies between today’s document and his 2008 views on nuclear strategy. But he did provide context for an important way the NPR supports President Obama’s ultimate vision of a nuclear-free world.
The document “remove[s] some of the calculated ambiguity” of previous U.S. nuclear strategy, Gates said, referring to its explicit rejection of a nuclear reprisal for a non-nuclear assault. But there are important exceptions. “We essentially carve out states that are not in compliance” with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Gates continued, stating explicitly that such a carve-out sends “a very strong message to Iran and North Korea.” That is: “If you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table” should such an international actor attack the United States in any form.
Linking U.S. nuclear doctrine to the so-called NPT is an “important step to reinvigorate” the treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added. Next week, over 40 heads of state will visit Washington for a two-day conference on mutual steps for nuclear security. That in turn tees up a May conference in New York City on strengthening the NPT. Administration officials say they want the treaty to have greater steps for ensuring verification and compliance, as well as more potent penalties for noncompliance or abrogation. Part of getting there, the administration believes, is creating a greater inducement to universal compliance. Eligibility for a U.S. nuclear response should a noncompliant party attack the U.S. is now part of that framework.