President Obama is likely to abandon a proposal to rule out first nuclear strike to deter a more aggressive strategic posture from Russia and China, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The objective of eliminating nuclear weapons was at the heart of the 2008 campaign.
While President Obama wants an overall reduction of nuclear weapons to be part of his legacy, in 2010 he conceded to a Republican demand for a $1 trillion program to modernize the US nuclear deterrent and modernize means of delivery, including submarines and aircraft. In fact, a recent study suggested President Obama had dismantled fewer nuclear bombs than any other post-Cold War administration.
Arms control advocates have been pushing the administration to deliver on “a world without nuclear weapons” commitment and an unequivocal no-first-use pledge.
Advocacy groups can count on former Defense Secretary William J. Perry who recently came forward to say that this is US unspoken policy for decades and it this would be the right time to formalize it. The retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James E. Cartwright, recently wrote that “nuclear weapons today no longer serve any purpose beyond deterring the first use of such weapons by our adversaries.”
But, the New York Times found that more than 12 current senior advisers to the administration fear such a pledge would be counterproductive for relations with Japan and South Korea. Among those reluctant to change strategic nuclear posture are the current Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry who caution about Russia’s mobility in the Baltic Sea and China’s aggression in the South China Sea.
The fear is that a no-first-use statement at this point could be read as weakness. And it is thought that the nuclear deterrent may also come into play in case Pyongyang is ready to deploy biological weapons.
Republican Presidential aspirant Donald Trump has said he would not want to weaken US leverage by a no first-strike commitment. However, he has spoken of a military and nuclear pullback from Asia, casting doubt about America’s role in the region. Trump has recently spoken about pulling forces out unless Japan and South Korea are willing to pay more to maintain US presence in the region. In March, he also hinted he would be willing to see them their own nuclear deterrent.
Clinton is avoiding the issue during her campaign.