WASHINGTON (AP) — Rewriting America's nuclear strategy, the White House yesterday announced a fundamental shift that calls the spread of atomic weapons to rogue states or terrorists a worse threat than the nuclear Armageddon feared during the Cold War.
The Obama administration is suddenly moving on multiple fronts with a goal of limiting the threat of a catastrophic international conflict, although it's not yet clear how far and how fast the rest of the world is ready to follow.
In releasing the results of an in-depth nuclear strategy review, President Barack Obama said his administration would narrow the circumstances in which the U.S. might launch a nuclear strike, that it would forgo the development of new nuclear warheads and would seek even deeper reductions in American and Russian arsenals.
His defense secretary, Robert Gates, said the focus would now be on terror groups such as al-Qaida as well as North Korea's nuclear buildup and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"For the first time, preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism is now at the top of America's nuclear agenda," Obama said, distancing his administration from the decades-long U.S. focus on arms competition with Russia and on the threat posed by nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert.
"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," he said, spelling out the core theme of the new strategy.
Obama's announcement set the stage for his trip to Prague tomorrow to sign a new arms reduction agreement with Russia. And it precedes a gathering in Washington next Monday of government leaders from more than 40 countries to discuss improving safeguards against terrorists acquiring nuclear bombs.