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President Barack Obama is making the prevention of nuclear terrorism a top goal of U.S. atomic policy as he revamps Cold War-era guidelines on nuclear weapons in an administration review that also would limit the role of nuclear weapons in national defense.

The president’s Nuclear Posture Review calls for “a broader approach to deterrence” than dependence primarily on the threat of a retaliatory nuclear strike, while warning of the dangers of nuclear technology spreading to terrorist groups.

“The greatest threat to U.S. and global security is no longer a nuclear exchange between nations, but nuclear terrorism by violent extremists and nuclear proliferation to an increasing number of states,” Obama said in a statement. “For the first time, preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism is now at the top of America’s nuclear agenda.”

The document is the cornerstone of Obama’s plan to put new limits on the use of U.S. nuclear weapons. The policy review precedes the signing of a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia this week and a summit next week in Washington on securing nuclear weapons material and preventing the spread of such arms.

‘Balanced and Comprehensive’

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the report presents “a balanced and comprehensive approach” to making the U.S. more secure while also taking steps toward Obama’s goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world.

Gates said in a briefing that any attack on the U.S. or its allies by a non-nuclear state that is in compliance with non- proliferation agreements would “face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response.”

While the policy de-emphasizes nuclear weapons as instruments of power, it says “there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or chemical, biological attack against the United States, or its allies and partners.”

Iran and North Korea are singled out in the report for violating “non-proliferation obligations” and defying the United Nations Security Council in their pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile systems to deliver nuclear payloads.

Gates said the review contains a “very strong message” to Iran and North Korea should they launch an attack against the U.S. or its allies, and that “all options are on the table” for a U.S. response.

Issuing a Warning

A warning is also included to “proliferating states” that any attack on the U.S. or its allies will be defeated and any state’s use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that is “effective and overwhelming.”

The report cites concerns about China’s stance on nuclear weapons even though the Chinese arsenal is much smaller than that of the U.S. and Russia.

“The lack of transparency surrounding its nuclear programs — their pace and scope, as well as the strategy and doctrine that guides them — raises questions about China’s future strategic intentions,” the review says.

Obama has called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The review provides the policy and the strategic framework to further that goal for the next 10 years.

“Finally, America’s nuclear policy reflects post-Cold War reality,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement. “The president is strengthening our national security to meet today’s most pressing threats, not Cold-War phantoms.”

Treaty With Russia

A new U.S. treaty with Russia that calls for cutting the two countries’ nuclear arsenals by almost a third will be signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague on April 8. Under the accord, the warheads allowed to each side would be cut to 1,550 from the 2,200 permitted under a treaty that expired in December.

The review says the administration will pursue discussions with Russia on further reductions that could be “broader in scope” than those included in the most recent treaty.

In an April 5, 2009, speech, Obama told a crowd in Prague that the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to lead an effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and Vice President Joe Biden outlined some of the new policies in a Feb. 18 speech where he said the administration was planning to lessen U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons.

“We’ve long relied on nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries,” Biden said in the speech. “But now, as our technology improves, we’re developing non-nuclear ways to accomplish the same objectives.”

No New Nuclear Weapons

The new nuclear policy would seek to isolate countries that aren’t in compliance with non-proliferation obligations, an administration official who briefed reporters said. In the policy review, Obama rejects the development of new nuclear weapons while increasing efforts to modernize the current arsenal.

The review endorses keeping in place — albeit in smaller numbers — the U.S. nuclear triad of submarine-launched D-5 Trident missiles, land-based missiles and heavy bombers.

And although the review focuses mostly on strategic nuclear weapons, it also says the U.S. needs to retain a capability to launch if needed so-called “non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

The Air Force, for example, is directed to eventually upgrade its new F-35 fighter to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

Upgrading the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb on aircraft deployed overseas is one of several initiatives the report outlines as important to reassuring allies of a U.S. commitment to nuclear deterrence.

Maintaining Stockpile

The budget Obama released earlier this year includes $7 billion for maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile, an increase of more than $600 million from what Congress passed last year, and it proposes to boost funding by $5 billion over the next five years.

The nuclear posture assessment is the third such review. The first came in 1994 under President Bill Clinton’s administration and focused on the role of nuclear weapons and strategic deterrence after the Soviet Union’s breakup, before the rise of terrorist groups that seek nuclear weapons.

A review released under President George W. Bush in early 2002, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, called for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on ground-, air- and sea-based nuclear weapons that were designed to deter an attack by the Soviet Union. The review recommended a defense based more on precision- guided conventional arms and a missile defense system. SFgate

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