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U.S. nuclear policy: the way forward

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Nuclear terrorism and the possibility of a nuclear weapon unleashed in any city present the greatest potential threat to U.S. security, public health and the economy. Current and future U.S. nuclear policy will be presented after March 1 when President Barack Obama is scheduled to release the Nuclear Posture Review, as mandated by Congress. This follows the recent Quadrennial Review of the Department of Defense strategy and priorities.

The Nuclear Posture Review outlines to our allies and the world the U.S. position on the role nuclear weapons play in our security. Obama has joined bipartisan architects of Cold War nuclear and security policy, the so-called "gang of four," including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Sen. Sam Nunn, head of the Senate Arms Services Committee, in stating his vision of a world without nuclear weapons in his speech delivered in Prague in April.

Making vision a reality

The Nuclear Posture Review, formulated in consultation with the departments of Defense, Energy and State, will provide the opportunity to lay out the means of making this critical vision a reality.

The Nuclear Posture Review of the Bush presidency modified our nuclear stance in several critical ways, potentially lowering the threshold of nuclear conflict and war. We expanded our nuclear-targeted nations from the Cold War of Russia alone as part of the former USSR, to the now-famous seven-nation "axis of evil." These included Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea.

In addition, the concept of pre-emptive nuclear strike against a nation having or developing weapons of mass destruction, including biologic and chemical, not just nuclear weapons, was proposed. This changed the long-standing Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine of the Cold War that warned of devastating nuclear retaliation in the event of nuclear attack upon the U.S. or our allies.

Finally, the proposed development of "usable" nuclear weapons was presented. This resulted in annual congressional budget battles over the past decade over weapons such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, the so-called bunker buster, to the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

The currently awaited Nuclear Posture Review provides the opportunity to shift past policy from Cold War thinking to a vision moving forward that allows a redirection of critical resources to address current and future security threats. These threats include so-called "loose nukes" in the former Soviet states and nuclear proliferation.

Deterrence, nuclear nonproliferation and arms control are the three critical elements needing to be addressed in the current Nuclear Posture Review.

Declaration needed

The president should declare that the role of current U.S. nuclear forces is for deterrence only -- not for pre-emptive strike or offensive use.

Secondly, abiding by our treaty obligations in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the U.S. must be committed to nuclear nonproliferation and, in this position, committed to the prevention of nuclear terrorism.

Finally, the U.S. must be committed to arms control. There are more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. These massive stockpiles of the U.S. and Russia increase the risk of accidental launch or theft, putting every country at risk.

These positions are in keeping with U.S. and global public opinion on nuclear weapons. They promote the stabilization of international nuclear order and maintain the U.S. in a credible leadership role as we move to negotiations on arms control, including the new START treaty, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, all occurring this year.

Obama has the opportunity to set the forces in motion to realize his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The president and Congress need to hear our voices. This is not a partisan or Democrat/Republican issue; it is a survival issue. The U.S. can and must lead by example.

-- Robert Dodge, M.D., of Ventura is a board member and Peace and Security ambassador for Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles(http://www.psrla.org); a board member for Beyond War (http://www.beyondwar.org) and leader of the Beyond War Nuclear Weapons Abolition Team; and co-chairman of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (http://www.c-p-r.net).

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Robert Dodge is the father of 3 sons. He is a family physician in Ventura, California. He serves on the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles and is president of the Ventura County Chapter. He also serves on the board of (more...)
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