WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama plans "dramatic reductions" in the country's nuclear weapons' stockpile as part of a sweeping policy review, a senior administration official told AFP on Monday.
The review of US nuclear policy "will point to dramatic reductions in the stockpile, while maintaining a strong and reliable deterrent through the investments that have been made in the budget," the official said.
Obama is making final decisions on a broad new nuclear strategy for the United States that will permanently reduce the US nuclear arsenal by thousands of weapons, The New York Times reported Monday.
But citing unnamed senior presidential aides, the newspaper said the administration had rejected proposals that the United States declare it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.
Obama's new strategy -- which would cancel or reverse several initiatives undertaken by the administration of former president George W. Bush -- will be contained in a nearly completed document called the Nuclear Posture Review, the report said.
Aides said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will present Obama with several options on Monday.
Obama's critics argue that his embrace of a new movement to eliminate nuclear weapons around the world is naive and dangerous, especially at a time of new nuclear threats, particularly from Iran and North Korea, the paper said.
But many of his supporters fear that over the past year he has moved too cautiously, and worry that he will retain the existing US policy by leaving open the possibility that the United States might use nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack, perhaps against a nation that does not possess a nuclear arsenal, the paper noted.
That is one of the central debates Obama must resolve in the next few weeks, according to his aides.
Many elements of the new strategy have already been completed. As described by senior administration and military officials, the strategy commits the United States to developing no new nuclear weapons, including the nuclear bunker-busters advocated by the Bush administration, The Times said.
Obama has already announced that he will spend billions of dollars more on updating America's weapons laboratories to assure the reliability of what he intends to be a much smaller arsenal, the paper recalled.
Other officials say that in back-channel discussions with allies, the administration has also been quietly broaching the question of whether to withdraw American tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, where they provide more political reassurance than actual defense, The Times said.
Those weapons are now believed to be in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands.
At the same time, the new document will steer the United States toward more non-nuclear defenses, according to the report. It relies more heavily on missile defense, much of it arrayed within striking distance of the Gulf, focused on the emerging threat from Iran.
Obama's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review also includes support for a new class of non-nuclear weapons, called "Prompt Global Strike," that could be fired from the United States and hit a target anywhere in less than an hour, The Times said.
The idea would be to give the president a non-nuclear option for, say, a large strike on the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the mountains of Pakistan, or a pre-emptive attack on an impending missile launch from North Korea, the report pointed out.
But under Obama's strategy, the missiles would be based at new sites around the United States that might even be open to inspection, so that Russia and China would know that a missile launched from those sites was not nuclear, The Times said.