“This is the latest in a series of concrete steps the President has made to advance his … agenda and the long-term goal of achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” said the White House in a fact sheet outlining the moves.
Among its highlights, the new nuclear employment strategy calls on the Pentagon to study ways of using non-nuclear strikes to accomplish some security missions now assigned to the nuclear arsenal.
“Although they are not a substitute for nuclear weapons, planning for non-nuclear strike options is a central part of reducing the role of nuclear weapons,” says a Department of Defense report on the new nuclear employment strategy.
The report also calls on the Pentagon to study ways of lowering current nuclear alert levels. Given that the current world geopolitical environment makes a surprise first strike on US nuclear forces much less likely, perhaps fewer of those forces need to be on a hair-trigger, ready to launch within minutes of an attack appears on the way.
“The guidance directs DoD to examine further options to reduce the role Launch Under Attack plays in US planning, while retaining the ability to Launch Under Attack if directed,” says the Pentagon report.
But the new guidance also makes clear that the US will continue to keep the size of Russia’s arsenal in mind when planning its own nuclear forces. It says “large disparities” between the two country’s nukes could cause an unstable security environment.
That means the Obama administration is not about to cut US nuclear forces down in a “minimum deterrence strategy.”