Officials Outline Strategy In Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review


By David Vergun

The Defense Department released its unclassified Nuclear Posture Review, Oct. 27, 2022. 

Richard C. Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and countering weapons of mass destruction policy, and Drew Walter, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, spoke Feb. 15 at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit, in Arlington, Virginia, about NPR topics. 

“This NPR recognizes that the international security environment has deteriorated, unfortunately, even since 2018,” Johnson said, referring to the year when the last NPR was released. 

“Obviously, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a stark reminder of nuclear risks in contemporary conflict. And in the meantime, we have the PRC nuclear modernization and expansion, presenting us with new risks and new uncertainties,” he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. 

These developments will mean that for the first time, the United States will face two major nuclear armed competitors. That presents new dilemmas for U.S. strategic and regional deterrence, Johnson said, adding that North Korea and Iran also present challenges. 

Although the NPR states that the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack, it confirms a broader set of roles, the first being to deter strategic attack, the second to assure allies and partners and the third is to achieve U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, he said 

This NPR sets a very high bar for nuclear employment, and the United States will only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners, he said. 

Walter said the NPR calls for a balanced, flexible stockpile, capable of pacing the threats, responding to uncertainty and maintaining effectiveness.  

The systems now in place are old and not particularly flexible or adaptable, Walter said. 

The department communicates its nuclear posture with Congress, he said. “The more information Congress has, the better decisions it will make. It truly does work quite well when you’re transparent,” he said, noting that there will always be disagreements but there’s been strong bipartisan support and support from current and past administrations. 

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