How Obama Could Revolutionize Nuclear Weapons Strategy Before He Goes

Tuesday, June 28, 2016
By Paul Martin
June 28, 2016

During the past half century, no president has dared to change the nation’s nuclear strategy in any fundamental way. Mired in a Cold-War mind-set, the strategy today has grown less and less connected to the contemporary world and its emerging security threats: terrorism, proliferation, cyber warfare, economic disruption, mass refugee migrations and climate change. Though the strategy’s underlying principles are increasingly outdated, they still underlie a raft of crucial defense policies and programs.

President Obama may be trying to change that in the six months he has left in office. In Prague in April 2009, in the first big foreign policy speech of his presidency, Obama laid out a vision of “a world without nuclear weapons.” Seven years later, he’s done little to realize this goal, but now Obama is contemplating some bold ideas to advance his Prague vision, involving two major reforms in nuclear policy. They are: “no-first-use”—taking off the table the option of ever initiating the use of U.S. nuclear weapons—and “no-launch-on-warning”—eliminating the option of unleashing nuclear weapons immediately after detecting an apparent nuclear strike in progress but before the incoming weapons reach their targets.

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