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Four critical nuclear security choices loom for US

{mosads}First, the next administration will face the difficult question of how to deal with the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. This will hardly be the first time that a U.S. president has confronted this question, but the stakes are higher now than ever before. The administration will no doubt recognize that all options need to be on the table, including military force. That said, at this stage, military action would be unwise and possibly detrimental to our strategic aims. There is still enough time to resolve the nuclear standoff by nonmilitary means.

Iran is increasingly isolated through an interlocking network of international sanctions. The next administration must continue to lead and work with international community to show the Iranian leaders and the Iranian people that a decision to acquire a nuclear weapon carries unacceptable risk for their future and will not be tolerated by the international community. This may result in the need for military action to support wider stability.

Next, North Korea’s nuclear program will remain an issue. Some advocate maintaining the status quo—further isolating the North, maintaining or increasing sanctions, and utilizing food aid as an incentive for North Korean reform and denuclearization. Engagement with North Korea has proven disappointing but should not be ruled out if the right circumstances should arise with a new North Korean leadership. This will continue to be a difficult issue to resolve quickly.

A third critical nuclear issue is Pakistan’s nuclear program. As the war in Afghanistan winds down, many U.S. policymakers will no doubt argue for breaking ties with Pakistan, an often frustrating ally. However, walking away from Pakistan would be a mistake. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains a serious threat for many reasons, from the risk of nuclear escalation with India to activity of terrorist organizations within Pakistan.

The next administration must emphasize ensuring the security and integrity of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal through practical steps such as encouraging Pakistan to adopt the IAEA Additional Protocol and to decalre a no-first-use policy toward all states.

Finally, the fourth (and in some way the largest) nuclear issue will be how to move from a redundant posture into a much-needed 21st century strategy. Although the U.S. arsenal has shrunk, our nuclear force structure remains basically the same. The world has moved on, threats have changed, but the U.S. nuclear strategy is still shaped by the Cold War.  

The nuclear triad – the land, sea, and air-based delivery systems for nuclear weapons – are the perfect example of this Cold War hangover. Plans to upgrade the triad, at acost of hundreds of billions of dollars, are moving forward. Yet the need to maintain all three platforms is still unclear. The next Administration’s nuclear review should carefully examine the strategy behind maintaining redundant nuclear systems that divert resources from other key defense programs – programs that better address 21st century security threats.

Updating the U.S. nuclear strategy will require that the next president work closely with congressional decision makers – a difficult task in today’s partisan environment. Heated political rhetoric often gets in the way of smart policy choices, even on nuclear security issues. It is time for all sides to begin a regular dialogue with each other about post-Cold War U.S. nuclear strategy.

The next four years will be not easy. Fortunately, there are solutions to these difficult nuclear questions. In every case, the key is forging bipartisan support. Today’s nuclear risks affect all of us. The next Administration and Congress will have to put aside political rhetoric to work to develop policies that effectively address these critical nuclear threats.  

Lodge is the director of nuclear security at the American Security Project specializing in nuclear non-proliferation and international nuclear agreements.


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