WASHINGTON (CN) – Government officials on Tuesday unveiled a more restrictive nuclear arms policy. The new plan limits the situations in which the president can respond with nuclear weapons and “will reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons” in the United States over the next several years, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said.
The nuclear posture review (NPR) is the first update to the nation’s nuclear policy since 2001.
“This NPR places the prevention of nuclear terrorism and proliferation at the top of the U.S. policy agenda,” Gates wrote at the beginning of a 72-page report outlining the plan.
“The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads,” the plan states. “Life Extension Programs will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”
The United States also renounced the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries that abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and promised not to react to chemical or biological attacks with nuclear weapons, a change from past U.S. policy.
But the United States reserves the right to change its mind pending future weapons development, according to the report.
Though the end goal of the plan is nuclear nonproliferation, Gates said, “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal” for deterrent purposes.
Gates called for $5 billion to be diverted from the Department of Defense to the Department of Energy over the next several years “to rebuild America’s aging nuclear infrastructure.” He said the funds will “enable further arms reductions by allowing us to hedge against future threats without the need for a large non-deployed stockpile.”
Gates joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and other leading government officials at the Pentagon at noon on Tuesday to introduce the plan.
“We understand our responsibility as the holders of the most nuclear weapons in the world,” Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher said.
General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the goal is to achieve a “posture that’s consistent with the threat out there to deter but not to overwhelm.”
National Nuclear Security Administration Thomas D’Agostino said, “We promised no new warheads or no new military capabilities.” Officials echoed D’Agostino’s emphasis on nonproliferation, stating that there would be no new testing or new missions. Instead, the focus would be on “sustaining a safe, secure and effective arsenal” and working with “previously tested designs,” officials said.
The plan’s release precedes a busy schedule for Obama on nuclear policy. Obama is headed to Prague on Thursday to sign the new START treaty, an agreement to reduce the amount of nuclear stockpiles in Russia and the United States.
He returns to Washington to host a nuclear security summit April 12-13.