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Obama’s Policy of Nuclear Balance

WASHINGTON, DC – Perhaps never in history have nuclear security, non-proliferation, and arms control received the prominence that they will during this month’s strategic trifecta: the April 6 release of the latest United States Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the April 8 signing in Prague of the New START Treaty, and the April 12-13 Nuclear Security Summit. These events will flow into May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

US President Barack Obama has become one of the most prominent global advocates of abolishing nuclear weapons, a position for which he unexpectedly received a Noble Peace Prize last year. But Obama’s actions have been considerably more restrained than is often assumed.

In general, Obama has pursued a policy of nuclear balance in which steps towards disarmament are accompanied by measures to retain America’s nuclear primacy. The former underscore his administration’s commitment to meeting its obligations under the NPT, while the latter reassure the US Congress and allies skeptical of bold new approaches.

The administration’s policies strive to address the aspirations of global disarmament advocates in several ways. The NPR, for example, further reduces America’s reliance on nuclear weapons by adopting an almost no-first-use doctrine. Only in “extreme circumstances” would the US consider using nuclear weapons. For the first time, the US pledges not to retaliate with a nuclear strike even if attacked by chemical or biological weapons.