New Report Recommends Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Nuclear Disarmament

FAS and NRDC Chart Minimal Deterrent Nuclear Mission

WASHINGTON, DC (April 8, 2009) -- In Prague, President Barack Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons. Today, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report calling for fundamental changes to U.S. nuclear war planning, a vital prerequisite if smaller nuclear arsenals are to be achieved.

“From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence -- A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons” calls to abandon the almost five-decade-long central mission for U.S. nuclear forces, which has been and continues to be “counterforce,” the capability for U.S. forces to destroy an enemy’s military forces, its weapons, its command and control facilities and its key leaders.

“The current rationale for maintaining an arsenal of nuclear weapons no longer exists.” said Ivan Oelrich, vice president of the Strategic Security Program at FAS and one of the report authors. “And to get future reductions in the number of weapons, we have to eliminate the missions they are assigned.”

The nuclear mission flows from directives and guidance given by the president, through the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Strategic Command where it is implemented into elaborate war plans. The report calls for eliminating all but one mission for nuclear forces. 

“President Obama has already taken the first step by stating America’s commitment to a world without nuclear weapons,” said Robert S. Norris, senior research associate with the Natural Resources Defense Council and report co-author. “We present the radical changes needed in U.S. policies to make disarmament a reality.”

That sole mission is deterrence, narrowly defined, to mean the certain capability to retaliate if any nation was unwise enough to use nuclear weapons against the United States or certain allies.

“Under minimal deterrence, all requirements for war planners to achieve an advantage in a nuclear exchange or limit damage to ourselves will disappear, leaving only in place the most basic mission of a sure retaliatory response,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the FAS Nuclear Information Project and report co-author.

The report makes these main points:

  • Current nuclear doctrine is an artifact of the Cold War that needs to be fundamentally altered. The counterforce mission, and all that goes with it, should be explicitly and publicly abandoned and replaced with a much less ambitious and qualitatively different doctrine. 
  • A minimal deterrence mission should be adopted as a transitional step on a path to zero nuclear weapons.
  • The President must be continuously engaged in this transformation with specific and direct instructions to the national security bureaucracies. Otherwise, presidential intentions can be co-opted and diffused.
  • Once formulated the President should publicly announce the changed role for nuclear weapons and the new types of targets.
  • Under American leadership the process should lead to engagement with the other nuclear powers towards a global goal of abolition.
  • The new strategy can be carried out with weapons in the current arsenal. No new weapons need to be built nor an extensive new complex created.

To learn more about the report, please visit: