Congressional Commission on the US Strategic Posture releases interim report

The Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States has released an interim report. The 12-page report sets out initial findings, focusing on “stockpile stewardship” and Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) issues (controversies which instigated the Commission’s formation). Although the Commission will not make its recommendations until April, the interim report’s language indicates that the Commission might weigh in favor of relying on a sizable nuclear deterrent and highlights only in a few places the opportunity for the United States to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in global security.

The Commission reviews how changes in US nuclear and conventional forces may influence changes in the strategic posture of other countries. For instance, the Commission observes that the United States’ vast conventional weapons superiority may push other countries to reach for nuclear weapons as an ‘equalizer’ when those countries are unable to keep pace with US conventional forces (see p9). Unsurprisingly, the Commission falls back on nuclear deterrence. However, the Commission repeats this language in a way that suggests it is more comfortable with a reactive policy rather than seizing the moment:

Given the uncertainties in the factors affecting global security today, the need for deterrence (and extended deterrence) could extend for an indefinite future. (p 5)

Both the US and Russia believe, however, that their security will depend on maintaining a deterrence force of some size for the foreseeable future. (p7)

In our final report we intend to define the most efficient and effective way to maintain a credible, safe, secure, and reliable deterrent for the long term. (p 10)

Thus, the Commission seems wary of lowering conventional or nuclear postures for fear of other countries taking advantage of perceived US weaknesses and tempting those countries to ramp up their own arsenals. At the same time, the Commission sees a toned down nuclear posture as having less potential to elicit cooperation: “What we do in our own nuclear weapon program has a significant effect on (but does not guarantee) our ability to get that cooperation.” (p 5)

However, the Commission does hold out the potential for change. It notes that an opening for improved relations with Russia may occur with the arrival of the new US Administration, which could enable the two countries to move ahead more productively with a follow up to START and SORT.

The Commission’s interim report also acknowledges the recommendation of the four US statesmen (George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn) to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons. (William Perry is also the Chair of the Commission). Specifically, the Commission states:

While the Nation should continue to commit to reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons and act transparently on that commitment, the US must also continue to maintain a nuclear deterrent appropriate to existing threats until such time as verifiable international agreements are in place that could set the conditions for the final abolition of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. (p 8 )

To be sure, the paragraph raises questions about long-term plans to use nuclear weapons as a deterrent against other types of weapons. Nevertheless, the Commission is acknowledging the importance of the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and will apparently recommend in its final report some steps that could be taken toward this goal.

In September, BASIC submitted recommendations to the Commission. The Commission’s interim report may be found on the website of the US Institute of Peace.

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