NEWS | April 6, 2010

Vice Chairman Expresses Comfort With Nuke Production Freeze

By John J. Kruzel American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2010 - The nation's second-ranking military officer said today that he's comfortable with a new U.S. policy that halts future production of nuclear weapons.

The freeze on developing new nuclear platforms, save for extraordinary cases requiring presidential approval, is an element of the Nuclear Posture Review, the first overarching look at U.S. nuclear strategy since the end of the Cold War.

"I don't feel constrained in the least, really," Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during the nuclear policy unveiling at the Pentagon today. "I think we have more than enough capacity and capability for any threat that we see today or might emerge in the foreseeable future. "

The Nuclear Posture Review, which culminates a year of Defense Department-led efforts involving top interagency officials, articulates a roadmap for cutting America's nuclear arsenal, edging the U.S. toward President Barack Obama's stated long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. The NPR ceases U.S. testing of nuclear weapons and the development of new nuclear weapons platforms.

Asked for the military's view about the cessation of new nuclear warhead development, Cartwright -- a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the country's global strategy -- said he is comfortable with the current U.S. arsenal, and that Stratcom's current commander, Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, agrees.

"Both for myself, as a previous commander at Stratcom, and also for General Chilton, we both feel very comfortable with these numbers and with these descriptions of reuse, replace, refurbishment," the vice chairman said.

Instead of developing new capabilities, the policy states that the United States will attempt to extend the lives of warheads currently in use. Refurbished weapons will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities, officials said.

In an effort to rebuild an aging nuclear infrastructure and invest in related facilities and personnel, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates requested that $5 billion be transferred from the Defense Department to the Energy Department over the next several years. On specific nuclear warhead platforms, Gates said, the United States will study options for ensuring their safety, security and reliability on a case-by-case basis.

"In any decision to proceed to engineering development, we will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse," Gates told Pentagon reporters. "Replacement of any nuclear components, if absolutely necessary, would require specific presidential approval. "

The terms laid out in the Nuclear Posture Review reflect the reality of the current security environment, Cartwright said, noting that the policy does not muzzle military leaders who identify a need for testing or for developing new capabilities pending changes.

"Nobody has ever removed from the commander or anyone else in that chain the ability to stand up and say, 'I'm uncomfortable; I believe that we're going to have to test, or I believe that we're going to have to build something new,'" he said. "That's not been removed here. "

The provisions engendered in the policy have been embraced by the top uniformed commanders, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the nation's military leaders were allowed to submit their input during the process.

Mullen said even while it precludes nuclear testing and the development of new warheads, the review bolsters regional deterrence by fielding new missile defenses, improving capabilities to counter weapons of mass destruction and revitalizing the nuclear support infrastructure.

"The chiefs and I fully support the findings of this Nuclear Posture Review," Mullen said, "because we believe it provides us and our field commanders the opportunity to better shape our nuclear weapons posture, policies and force structure to meet an ever-changing security environment. "

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said American laboratory directors and a host of other outside technical reviews have been very clear that life-extension programs can maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of the stockpile without testing.

"In any decision to proceed to the engineering development for warhead life-extension programs, the United States will give strong preference to the options of refurbishment or reuse," he said, adding that proposals for new developments would be sent to the president "only if critical stockpile-management program goals cannot otherwise be met. "