This month has seen the signing of an agreement on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II by U.S. and Russian heads of state Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in Prague on the 8th and the release of the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, both of which are being widely interpreted as heralding the downgrading of the role of nuclear weapons in American foreign policy.
In fact the new treaty on the reduction of the nuclear arsenals of the two nations that account for 90-95 percent of the world’s supply of such weapons, with a commensurate cutback in the delivery systems for them, is a quantitative advance in the direction of eliminating the deadliest and most destructive weapons ever devised by man, but still leaves 3,100 deployed nuclear weapons in both nations’ quivers and thousands more in storage.
Similarly, the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), in stating for the first time that the U.S. will not employ nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states – with two notable (and critically important) exceptions, which will be examined below – also has been construed by some observers as another milestone on the road to a world free from the threat of nuclear war and in the worst case thermonuclear annihilation.
With the two-day, 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. following so closely on the START II agreement and the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, the world press is abuzz with almost millenarian optimism regarding the prospects for a planet free of nuclear weapons. American establishment news agencies and political commentators – half government ventriloquist dummies and half mock devil’s advocates – are rightly celebrating the START II and the Nuclear Security Summit as victories for their nation. The first allows the U.S. to forge ahead with programs like international interceptor missile deployments and Prompt Global Strike ; the latter positions Washington as sole arbiter and main enforcer in regards to nuclear proliferation worldwide.
The only naysayers are American superhawks for whom anything other than uncontested U.S. strategic military superiority with the fervent willingness to use it is an unwarranted concession if not a treasonous capitulation.
The above are often congress persons from districts which are home to large arms manufacturers’ headquarters and production facilities and others on the payroll of the military-industrial lobby.
When leading officials of the current administration issue bellicose foreign policy statements the press often attributes those pronouncements to pressure from or fear of the opposition Republican Party, especially in a congressional election year like 2010. However, the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama has retained George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and has installed Bush-era U.S. European Command and North Atlantic Treaty Organization top military commander James Jones as its national security adviser. It is also not a Republican administration that requested and has secured an unprecedented $708 billion dollar military budget for next year.
Regarding international military strategy, except for which weapon systems are favored over others there is continuity in the White House that verges on indistinguishability.
To illustrate how little has changed since the heated days following the attacks in New York City and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, on April 11 – the day before the two-day Nuclear Security Summit in Washington – President Obama boldly asserted "We know that organizations like al-Qaida are in the process of trying to secure nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, and would have no compunction at using them."
Aside from the curious choice of preposition to accompany "would have no compunction," the U.S. head of state evidently has no compunction about claiming to know the intentions of al-Qaida or about making such an assertion without revealing how he knows it to be true. Perhaps it is sufficient simply to assume any enemy of the "world’s sole military superpower" is actuated by the most nefarious of designs and has the ability to carry them out.
In the 1700s the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote of the predatory masters of the jungle that he who terrorizes also trembles. Establishing unchallenged dominance based on force means that the sound of every twig being broken and the rustling of every leaf trigger a heightened state of vigilance and the instinct to strike. There is always a threat and always a prey.
Obama added "The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security – both short term, medium term and long term – would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon." In his meetings on April 11 with the heads of state of India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and South Africa, Obama was flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser James Jones and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, hardly a peace-loving coterie. (The only substantive agreement to come out of the meetings had nothing to do with nuclear proliferation. Instead the U.S. gained the right to fly troops and military equipment for the war in Afghanistan over Kazakhstan, which borders both China and Russia, after first passing over the North Pole.)
On the same day the country’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were featured on NBC’s "Meet the Press," CBS’s "Face the Nation" and ABC’s "This Week" and "gave interviews meant to reassert the nation’s military strength."  In the last-named program (taped on April 9), Clinton’s comments included:
"We’ll be, you know, stronger than anybody in the world as we always have been with more nuclear weapons than are needed many times over. And so we do not see this [the new Nuclear Posture Review] as in any way a diminishment of what we are able to do."
"I think if you actually read the nuclear posture review, you would make three conclusions. First – we intend to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent. Let no one be mistaken. The United States will defend ourselves, and defend our partners and allies. We intend to sustain that nuclear deterrent by modernizing the existing stockpile. In fact, we have $5 billion in this year’s budget going into that very purpose." 
Gates touted both facets of the new U.S. international military strategy, the ability to deliver rapid, long-range first strikes with conventional weapons and to then hide behind a globally expanding missile shield should retaliation ensue:
"We have more robust deterrents today, because we’ve added to the nuclear deterrent missile defense. And – and with the phased adaptive approach that the president has approved, we will have significantly greater capability to deter the Iranians, because we will have a significantly greater missile defense.
"We’re also developing this conventional prompt global strike, which really hadn’t gone anywhere in the – in the Bush administration, but has been embraced by the new administration. That allows us to use long range missiles with conventional warheads. So we have – we have more tools if you will in the deterrents kit bag than – than we used to." 
In her "Face the Nation" appearance Clinton said "we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies" and Gates stated that if other countries don’t, in Washington’s estimate, adhere to the stipulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) then "all bets are off." Both addressed Iran and North Korea, the remaining two-thirds of George W. Bush’s "axis of evil," as the main targets of their attention.
So much for the new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) reversing the U.S. doctrine of "reserving the right" (see below) to wage nuclear attacks, even so-called preemptive nuclear attacks, against non-nuclear nations. The other key point is Clinton’s use of the phrase "our partners and allies," which is an expression that is repeated like a red thread throughout the Nuclear Posture Review and the new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
The NPR includes the contention that "In pursuit of their nuclear ambitions, North Korea and Iran have violated non-proliferation obligations" – and as such are not excluded from nuclear strikes – and "as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces. These nuclear forces will continue to play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world." 
The U.S. "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states" only if the latter "are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations."
"The United States is…not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons," and "reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat."
Just as the U.S. will decide itself which countries are and are not in compliance with the NPT (whatever the International Atomic Energy Agency says on the matter) and which that are not will be subjected to sanctions and even direct military attacks, so it "reserves the right" to use nuclear weapons, including in advance of an attack, against any state that is accused of developing biological weapons or harboring non-state actors that are doing so. Precisely the language of President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after September 11, 2001.
With the unspoken assumptions added in parentheses, the NPR statement on biological weapons reads: The United States reserves the (exclusive, arbitrary, unilateral) right to make any adjustment in the (non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states) assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the (real or hypothetical or contrived) biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat (as was done with Iraq in 2003).
To demonstrate that Iran and North Korea are not the only countries that the NPR is developing contingency plans against, it also mentions that "Russia remains America’s only peer in the area of nuclear weapons capabilities," and "the United States and China’s Asian neighbors remain concerned about China’s current military modernization efforts, including its qualitative and quantitative modernization of its nuclear arsenal."
Though its main emphasis remains the one that served as the pretext for the war against Iraq seven years ago: "In coming years, we must give top priority to discouraging additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities and stopping terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear bombs or the materials to build them." The occupant of the Oval Office and the name of his worldwide military campaign – transformed from the global war on terror to overseas contingency operations – may have changed, but nothing else has except the public inclusion of a nuclear component to the strategy. The next Niger "yellow cake" fabrication may lead to a far more catastrophic conflagration.
Hillary Clinton reinforced the point on April 11: "We fear North Korea and Iran, because their behavior as – the first case, North Korea being – already having nuclear weapons, and Iran seeking them – is that they are unpredictable. They have an attitude toward countries like Israel, like their other neighbors in the Gulf that makes them a danger." 
Gates added on "Face the Nation": "Because North Korea and Iran are not in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty….All options are on the table." 
On April 12 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that an attack on Iran would be "the worst possible scenario," and "if conflict of that kind happens, and a strike is performed, then you can expect anything, including use of nuclear weapons. And nuclear strikes in the Middle East, this means a global catastrophe. Many deaths." 
On the same day the chief of the Russian General Staff Nikolai Makarov said that air strikes against Iran by the U.S. and Israel would be "unacceptable," and that "This is a last resort that exists in the plans of both the United States and Israel." 
To insure the ability to deliver just such strikes, "The NPR concluded that the current alert posture of U.S. strategic forces with heavy bombers off full-time alert, nearly all ICBMs on alert, and a significant number of SSBNs at sea at any given time should be maintained for the present."
Speaking of the U.S. global missile shield project in early February, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said "We believe this approach will provide reassurance to our allies that the United States will stand by our security commitments to them and will help to negate the coercive potential of regional actors attempting to limit U.S. influence and actions in key regions.” 
No nation on earth will be permitted to respond to American political and military intrusions in its neighborhood or off its coast. And potential first strike-related interceptor missile deployments will be installed under the guise of protecting the U.S.’s "allies and partners."
The allies and partners in question are first of all the other 27 members of NATO, which are covered under the bloc’s Article 5 mutual military assistance provision and, for the most part secondarily, other military client states throughout the world. The partners that Clinton emphasized the Nuclear Posture Review included as covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella and conceivably even to launch nuclear attacks on behalf of.
Possible scenarios for the implementation of this policy include, with the U.S. intervening on behalf of the first belligerent, conflicts or confrontations between:
- Israel and Iran, Lebanon and Syria or any combination of the three.
- The Persian Gulf monarchies – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – and Iran.
- South Korea and North Korea.
- Japan and North Korea.
- Colombia and Venezuela and Ecuador.
- Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
- Canada and Russia in the Arctic Circle
- Taiwan and China.
- Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia hosts a small contingent of Russian peacekeepers and is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. In a major conflict between the two South Caucasus countries Turkey, a NATO member, would be pressured to intervene on behalf of Azerbaijan.
- Moldova and Transdniester. The second also has Russian troops on its territory and NATO member Romania would almost certainly enter the fray on Moldova’s side should a major armed conflict erupt.
- A resumption of fighting between Djibouti, where the U.S. bases its Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and approximately 2,000 troops, and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, with pressure on American client Ethiopia to intervene as it did in Somalia in 2006.
- A less likely but by no means impossible armed altercation between Australia, which last year approved its largest military buildup since World War II,  and one of its neighbors, in the most dangerous instance Indonesia.
Canada is a founding member of NATO and Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Georgia, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Moldova, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates are NATO partner states under the Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and Contact Country programs and several of them – Azerbaijan, Georgia, Israel and Moldova – have individual NATO partnerships.
With the exception of ice-bound Antarctica, the "allies and partners" rationale would permit Washington to threaten the use of or to in fact employ nuclear weapons on every continent.
If the realization of what an elastic interpretation of the Nuclear Posture Review, "with a lot of room for contingencies" and when "all bets are off," portends is not yet present in the U.S. itself, it is becoming so elsewhere. On April 11 Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized President Obama for threatening his nation with a nuclear attack, stating "An example of this is the recent statement by the US president, who implicitly threatened the Iranian nation with the use of nuclear arms." 
On the same day it was reported that the Iranian embassy in Denmark issued a similar condemnation of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, stating:
"The former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Wednesday article" – "The case for western missile defence" in The Guardian – "which raised some issues about Iran, was full of misinterpretations, ill-intent, and false accusations about Tehran’s peaceful nuclear and missile activities."
"He, like others who seek any opportunity to spread their warmongering views, has once again resorted to preconceptions, lies and deception."  The Iranian Foreign Ministry has announced plans to raise the issue in the United Nations Security Council.
Rasmussen is the main ringleader of the U.S.’s major "allies and partners."
The NPR states "Although the risk of nuclear attack against NATO members is at an historic low, the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons – combined with NATO’s unique nuclear sharing arrangements under which non-nuclear members participate in nuclear planning and possess specially configured aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons contribute to Alliance cohesion and provide reassurance to allies and partners who feel exposed to regional threats."
It also maintains that "Any changes in NATO’s nuclear posture should only be taken after a thorough review within and decision by the Alliance.
"In Asia and the Middle East where there are no multilateral alliance structures analogous to NATO the United States has maintained extended deterrence through bilateral alliances and security relationships and through its forward military presence and security guarantees."
Part of February’s Ballistic Missile Defense Review policy is to "Deploy new sensors in Europe to improve cueing for missiles launched at the United States by Iran or other potential adversaries in the Middle East," as well as to "Invest in further development of the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) for future land-based deployment as the ICBM threat matures." 
It is not indicated when if ever Iran is expected to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S., a patent absurdity. Whether, for example, it would occur before or after al-Qaida acquires nuclear weapons according to Washington’s claims is not specified.
The NPR states that "As President Obama has made clear, today’s most immediate and extreme danger is nuclear terrorism."
It also contains a pledge to "maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal to deter attack on the United States, and on our allies and partners."
"Agile and flexible U.S. military forces with superior capabilities across a broad spectrum of potential operations are a vital component of this broad tool set."
The Ballistic Missile Defense Review also advances plans to "Pursue a number of new GMD [Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, supposedly abandoned last September 17] system enhancements, develop next generation missile defense capabilities, and advance other hedging strategies including continued development and assessment of a two-stage ground-based interceptor," and to develop "new capabilities such as a land-based SM-3 system (tentatively called ‘Aegis Ashore’)" and "increasingly capable PATRIOT batteries for point defense, the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar for detecting and tracking ballistic missiles, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries for area defense, space-based sensors, and sea-based capabilities such as the SM-3 Block IA interceptor."
The putative purpose for doing so is because the "ballistic missile threat is increasing both quantitatively and qualitatively, and is likely to continue to do so over the next decade." Twenty years after the end of the Cold War.
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review outlines additional plans to:
- Assure access to space and the use of space assets
- Expand future long-range strike capabilities
- Defeat enemy sensors and engagement systems
- Centralize command of cyber operations
The army is to maintain "7 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries" and the Navy "10–”11 aircraft carriers and 10 carrier air wings 84 –” 88 large surface combatants, including 21–”32 ballistic missile defense-capable combatants and Aegis Ashore." 
The Nuclear Posture Review parallels the above plans with the demand for "U.S.-based nuclear weapons that could be deployed forward quickly to meet regional contingencies," and to "Retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers and heavy bombers" in part "to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America’s security commitments."
Whereas other nations’ military doctrines mention defending their own homelands, "as a global power, the strength and influence of the United States are deeply intertwined with the fate of the broader international system –” a system of alliances, partnerships, and multinational institutions that our country has helped build and sustain for more than sixty years."
The Quadrennial Defense Review also states: "Our deterrent remains grounded in land, air, and naval forces capable of fighting limited and large-scale conflicts in environments where anti-access weaponry and tactics are used, as well as forces prepared to respond to the full range of challenges posed by state and non-state groups."
For six decades Washington has built military alliances around the globe and at an accelerating pace since the end of the Cold War. "Allies and partners" are military outposts that will be defended – preemptively and with nuclear weapons if deemed necessary – and will be used as springboards for attacks on other nations.
. Prompt Global Strike: World Military Superiority Without Nuclear Weapons, Stop NATO, April 10, 2010
. Nuclear Posture Review Report, U.S. Department of Defense, April 2010
. Australian Military Buildup And The Rise Of Asian NATO, Stop NATO, May 6, 2009
. Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, U.S. Department of Defense, February 1, 2010
. Quadrennial Defense Review Report, U.S. Department of Defense, February 2010