The United States administration today pledged to not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear state that complied with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as per the latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Announcing some of the key results of the “first unclassified NPR in its totality” at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates said,” If a non-nuclear state is in compliance with the NPT and its obligations, the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.”

He added that if any state eligible for such an assurance were to use chemical or biological weapons against the U.S., its allies or partners, it would face the prospect of a “devastating conventional military response.”

Asserting that this implied a “significant change” in the U.S.’s nuclear posture Mr. Gates however said that given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of biotechnology development, the U.S. still “reserves the right to make any adjustment to this policy that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of biological weapons.”

He underscored the point that the review also placed the evolution of nuclear terrorism and proliferation at the top of the nuclear policy agenda – this was essential given “Al Qaeda’s continued quest for nuclear weapons, Iran’s ongoing nuclear efforts and North Korea’s proliferation,” Mr. Gates explained.

In terms of other changes from earlier nuclear policy, the NPR results announced today determined that the U.S. would not develop new nuclear warheads. “Programmes to extend the lives of warheads will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities,” Mr. Gates said in this context.

Speaking on the release of the review, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the NPR represented a “milestone in the transformation of our nuclear forces and the way in which we approach nuclear issues.” Touching upon upcoming efforts in the area of nuclear security she said that this Thursday President Obama would return to Prague to sign historic new START treaty with Russia; and next week he would will host more than 40 heads of state and governments to tackle the threat of nuclear terrorism. She said that this NPR provided the strategic basis for such efforts and demonstrated the U.S. commitment to making progress towards disarmament under the nuclear NPT.

She emphasised that by stating, for the first time, that the U.S. would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that were party to the NPT and in compliance with their non-proliferation obligations the U.S. would help “reinvigorate the global non-proliferation regime, especially as we approach the NPT review conference next month.”

Mr. Gates stressed that there were a number of areas of continuity prescribed by the NPR, including the intention of the U.S. to hold accountable “any state, terrorist group or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing or providing expertise or safe havens for such efforts.”

It would also be necessary for the U.S. to make “much needed investments to rebuild our ageing nuclear infrastructure, both facilities and personnel,” Mr. Gates said, adding that he had asked for nearly $5 billion to be transferred from the Department of Defence to the Department of Energy over the next several years, to improve U.S. nuclear infrastructure.

The U.S. would additionally continue to maintain the nuclear triad of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, nuclear-capable aircraft and ballistic missile submarines. Further it would continue to develop and improve non-nuclear capabilities, including regional missile defences, “to strengthen deterrence and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our overall defence posture,” Mr. Gates said. Finally the U.S. would still abide by its pledge not to conduct nuclear testing and press for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

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