In 2009, President Barack Obama stood before an enthusiastic crowd in Prague and proclaimed that he would make the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” a key administration foreign policy goal, though it may not be achieved in his lifetime. And while his is not the first administration to support this objective—the United States is formally committed to move toward disarmament as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—Obama was more emphatic than any other recent president of the United States that eventual global nuclear disarmament, and not just nonproliferation in places like Iran, should be a U.S. priority.
But recent lapses and scandals involving nuclear weapons personnel have forced the administration to confront a different commitment that Obama made during the same Prague speech, namely that the United States will “maintain a safe, secure and effective” arsenal for as long as nuclear weapons exist. Accordingly, last week the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was initiating a review of the U.S. nuclear deterrence enterprise.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the review on Wednesday, saying that while Hagel has confidence in the operation of the U.S. nuclear force, the secretary believes it is necessary for the Defense Department “as a whole to place renewed emphasis on examining the health of the nuclear force, in particular those issues that affect the morale, professionalism, performance and leadership of the people who make up that force.”