Pentagon Eyes Nuclear Shift

WASHINGTON -- A classified Pentagon review of nuclear policy calls for sharply reducing the United States' dependence on nuclear weapons by expanding the use of conventional, precision arms and building a missile defense system, according to officials familiar with the document.

The study, the Nuclear Posture Review, outlines a new post-Cold War concept of deterrence that is intended to justify slashing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 weapons, from about 7,000, as U.S. President George W. Bush has pledged.

But the review does not call for destroying the weapons removed, Congressional officials who received a briefing on the review said Tuesday. That raises the likelihood that warheads would be simply put in storage, where they could be reactivated on relatively short notice.

Many Democrats and arms control advocates contend that unless the nuclear warheads are completely dismantled, proposals to cut the stockpile will do nothing to encourage the Russians to reduce their arsenal of about 6,000 weapons.

Still, Pentagon officials said the review lays the groundwork for a new strategic relationship with Russia, something Bush first promised during the 2000 presidential campaign when he asserted, "Our mutual security need no longer depend on a nuclear balance of terror."

At the time, Bush advocated the deployment of a missile defense shield as a protection against nuclear attack, rather than relying solely on large-scale nuclear retaliation. The document prepared by the Pentagon suggests for the first time, however, that improvements in munitions could allow the military to substitute powerful, highly accurate conventional bombs and missiles to deter an enemy strike.

"We're looking at a transformation of our deterrence posture from an almost exclusive emphasis on offensive nuclear forces to a force that includes defenses as well as offenses, that includes conventional strike capabilities as well as nuclear-strike capabilities, and includes a much reduced level of nuclear strike capability," said Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz.

Congressional officials said the review proposes a 10-year schedule for reducing the U.S. arsenal, which Democrats and arms control advocates say is too slow.

The review recommends that the United States continue its moratorium on nuclear-weapons tests, officials said. But it also says that if the moratorium is lifted, the time to prepare for tests be reduced from two years to one year or less. Many Pentagon officials contend that testing will become more important if the arsenal is smaller.

Many military commanders have resisted the idea of cuts to the nuclear arsenal, arguing that the threat of nuclear retaliation is needed to deter attacks -- whether nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional.

The Nuclear Posture Review, the first since 1994, could allay those fears by showing how improved non-nuclear munitions, missile defense and warmer relations with Russia have made nuclear weapons less crucial.

But by not calling for the destruction of nuclear weapons, the review seems to reflect the concerns of many conservatives and military officials that Russia could one day again become a nuclear rival, or that China could amass enough nuclear weapons to pose a threat.

Wolfowitz acknowledged those concerns, saying, "Recognizing that the world can change in dangerous and unpredictable ways, we are putting more emphasis than we have in the last 10 or 15 years on that underlying infrastructure that allows you, including in the nuclear area, to rebuild capabilities or build new ones if the world changes."

Bush pledged to reduce the arsenal during meetings in November with President Vladimir Putin, who said he planned to order deep cuts in Russia's arsenal, too.

At a news conference at the time, Bush appeared to commit himself to destroying many, if not most, of the nuclear warheads removed from the active arsenal. But his remarks were later amended by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, who said that only some of the weapons would be destroyed.

Arms control advocates said that simply storing weapons would encourage a similar move in Russia, where the government's control over its nuclear stockpile is considered less than secure.

"If we put ours into storage, the Russians will probably do the same," said Tom Zamora Collina, director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.