US announces revised limits on use of nuclear weapons

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

US President Barack Obama today announced a revamp of a policy that dictates the conditions under which nuclear weapons would be used by the United States.

The Nuclear Posture Review, which was published on Tuesday, now completely rules out the use of nuclear weapons by the US in response to an attack using chemical, biological, or conventional weapons. The new document says that the US will use nuclear weapons only in "extreme circumstances," although it did not specify what those circumstances would be. It also commits the US to not develop new nuclear warheads, although the country's arsenal of conventional (non-nuclear) weapons will be maintained.

The document does, however, contain two major caveats. Only countries that comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are subject to the new limitations, meaning that India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan would be exempt from the limitations, as these countries are non-parties to the treaty, and Iran would be except while in violation of the treaty. Also, the new strategy will maintain the option of reconsidering the pledge not to use nuclear weapons in retaliation to a biological attack, but only if it was judged that such technology had reached a point where the US was vulnerable to such an attack.

The revised strategy is expected to be controversial among both conservatives and liberals, who have, respectively, argued against reducing the power of nuclear weapons and advocated for a pledge to never initiate nuclear warfare. Obama called the new plan one that would enable the US to "move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons" and that would "make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances."

Obama held an interview at the White House about the new plans, in which he called the new strategy "a series of graded options." He also said that "I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure."