Obama's Golden Nuclear Option

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Sometime this month, after receiving a year's worth of research and analysis from the Pentagon and his national security advisers, President Obama will get to decide for the first time in his term what the United States' nuclear war strategy should look like. Every four years, the strategy comes up for review and revision; Obama could determine its scope, where it's aimed, and whether the US could use nukes for a first strike.

In light of the deficit cold war gripping Washington and the post-Iraq move toward a more conventional military strategy, Obama has an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the world's danger of nuclear attack, security expert Joseph Cirincione wrote in Foreign Affairs on Thursday. (Full disclosure: Cirincione is president of the anti-proliferation Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation which has provided funding to Mother Jones.)

Since early in his presidency, Obama has insisted that the US should work to reduce and eventually eliminate its stockpile of nukes. He re-emphasized that point last month when announcing his new overall military strategy at the Pentagon. "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force," he said, "which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Current conditions certainly seem ripe for nuclear reductions. Politicians from both parties have been looking for cuts in the federal budget. Some of America's nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and subs are reaching the end of their operational lives and could either be replaced at great expense, or allowed to "sunset." But most important, according to Cirincione, the president now has his once-in-a-lifetime (or, at least, once-in-an-elected-term) shot to change the nation's nuclear policy guidance, with potentially huge benefit to US fiscal strength and military posture alike.

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