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Obama puts new limits on US use of nuclear weapons

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“If a non-nuclear weapon state is in compliance with the nonproliferation treaty and its obligations, the US pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the Pentagon Tuesday. “If any state eligible for this assurance were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies or partners, it would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response.”

'First-use' policy remains

The new document maintains the status quo when it comes to “first-use,” giving the Obama administration the right to attack first if it decides it is in the interest of national security, a move that heartens conservatives opposed to negotiated arms control.

President Obama, who was said to have been deeply involved in the effort, likely wanted to make deeper cuts to the nuclear weapon posture, but political pragmatism weighed against ideological determination.

“I think in his heart of hearts, he would have liked to go further, but you take what you can get,” says Christopher Hellman with the National Priorities Project, in Northampton, Mass. “I think we could have done better, but I’m not surprised we didn’t. We certainly could have done worse.”

The document’s release comes two days before Mr. Obama and Russian President Medvedev are to sign a historic agreement limiting the number of weapons in each country’s nuclear arsenal.

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