Nuclear Posture Review Recommends Diminished U.S. Dependence on Nuclear Weapons and Resumption of Underground Nuclear Testing

* A highly confidential report released by the Pentagon this week called the Nuclear Posture Review recommends that the U.S. reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons and expand its use of conventional precision weapons and a missile defense system. The report is intended to justify the reduction of the U.S. nuclear stockpile from 6,000 to approximately 1,700 to 2,200 weapons by 2012, as was guaranteed by President Bush last year in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Paul Wolfowitz, deputy Defense Secretary, said "We're looking at a transformation of our deterrence posture from an almost exclusive emphasis on offensive nuclear forces, to a force that includes defenses as well as offenses, that includes conventional strike capabilities, and includes a much reduced level of nuclear strike capability."

However, the report raises the possibility that the weapons would simply be put into storage, where they could be reactivated relatively quickly. Activists are concerned that unless the weapons are dismantled or destroyed, the plan would do nothing to encourage other nations to reduce their nuclear stockpiles as well. Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Yakovenko urged that the cuts be "irreversible," so that strategic offensive weapons aren't just reduced on paper.

It is also expected that the Review recommends resuming underground testing at the Nevada Test Site sooner than is recommended by Department of Energy (or DOE) guidelines. Supporters of the renewal testing argue that testing is necessary to ensure two more decades of reliability of weapons designed more than 20 years ago. The Review is intentionally vague about the subject of underground testing in order to "avoid making waves, " an administration official said.

Renewed underground testing would rescind the 1992 moratorium on nuclear testing imposed by George Bush, Sr. and upheld by Bill Clinton. George W. Bush's decision to lift the moratorium is expected to cause an outcry among the US's allied nations, which recently renewed support for the U.S. following the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. The majority of these nations support a global ban on nuclear weapons.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "The President is observing the moratorium and has said so," but also said that underground testing is necessary to uphold the US's responsibility to see that the nuclear arsenal is "safe and reliable." A letter to President Bush drafted by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability said, "Now is not the time to send an ambiguous non-proliferation message to our international partners in the war against terrorism."

The Nuclear Posture Review was spurred in part by President Bush's earlier campaign promise to reduce the nuclear stockpile. The top-secret review has prompted an national response, although administration officials believe that the whole subject of nuclear weapons has receded into the background following the September 11th attacks. Despite the national and international attention the matter has drawn, it has yet to receive major media coverage here in New Mexico. It is uncertain what impacts the plans will have on the DOE facilities and environment in New Mexico.

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