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Obama’s N-policy to be in place soon

President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers within days will present him with an agonising choice on how to guide US nuclear weapons policy for the rest of his presidency.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2010 01:10 IST

President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers within days will present him with an agonising choice on how to guide US nuclear weapons policy for the rest of his presidency.

Does he substantially advance his bold pledge to seek a world free of nuclear weapons by declaring that the “sole purpose” of the US arsenal is to deter other nations from using them? Or does he embrace a more modest option, supported by some senior military officials, that deterrence is the “primary purpose”?

The difference may seem semantic, but such words, which will be contained in a document known as the Nuclear Posture Review, have deep meanings and could dramatically shift nuclear policy in the United States and around the world.

The first option would scale back the arsenal’s war-fighting role, potentially leading to a smaller U.S. stockpile and taking weapons off alert. The second option would be less of a change, holding out the nuclear threat but still permitting a reduction in weapons. The president was briefed on the document this week and requested additional intermediate options, officials say.

Senior administration officials have already indicated the review is likely to roll back some Bush policies, such as threatening the use of nuclear weapons to pre-empt or respond to chemical or biological attacks. The review will also point to new ways to cut the Pentagon’s stockpile of roughly 5,000 active nuclear warheads, they say.

But, officials say, after lengthy debate, Obama’s aides have rejected some of the boldest ideas on the table, such as forswearing the option to use nuclear arms first in a conflict, or dropping one leg of the “triad” of bombers, submarines and land-based missiles that carry the deadly weapons.

Obama’s decision on the sensitive issue of U.S. “declaratory policy,” US officials and outside experts say, will help determine whether the document is regarded as a far-reaching shift from the Bush administration’s version released in 2001. Lower-level officials trying to craft the language engaged in fierce discussions about how far and fast the administration could alter course without alarming allies.

The Nuclear Posture Review is done at the start of each administration, and influences budgets, treaties and weapons deployments and retirements for five to 10 years. Expectations for this one have been raised because of Obama’s pledge last year to “put an end to Cold War thinking” and move toward global disarmament - a vision that helped win him a Nobel Peace Prize.

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