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'USSR may be past, but weapons of the era remain'

February 18, 2010 09:54 IST

The US would maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent while working towards the goal of achieving a nuke-free world, a top Obama administration official on nuclear disarmament has said.

"This administration will work toward a world without nuclear weapons and we will continue to maintain a safe, secure, and effective deterrent as we proceed toward that goal," Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, said.

Addressing to the Second Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Virginia, Tauscher said there is nothing contradictory about decreasing the size and role of nuclear weapons and increasing their confidence in the deterrent.

"Our growing knowledge of the reliability of our stockpile, through our stewardship efforts, enables us to safely continue reducing the number of weapons that are the legacy of the Cold War," she said.

"Too many weapons of that era remain even though the Soviet Union no longer exists and even though we're moving from an era of Mutually Assured Destruction to an era of Mutually Assured Stability," she said.

Tauscher said the primary focus today is no longer deterring a large-scale nuclear conflict between two superpowers, but preventing the use of even a single nuclear weapon.

"That's why I am working to implement the President's agenda and strengthen our deterrent. As the President said, we might not achieve the goal of a world without nuclear weapons in his lifetime. It may take patience and persistence," she observed.

Noting that the Obama administration will accelerate its efforts to transform US's nuclear weapons posture through the Nuclear Posture Review, which will submitted to Congress next month, she said: "We will continue our work to keep vulnerable nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists by preparing for a successful Nuclear Security Summit in April and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in May."

Commenting on the role of nuclear weapons in America's defence posture, Tauscher said while nuclear weapons have a clear role, US's deterrent extends beyond nuclear weapons.

"It includes developing better and more effective missile defence systems and strategies. It includes bolstering our conventional forces' interoperability, their precision, and their reach," she said.

"Our improving conventional capabilities make it possible to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons for some targets and missions. As our conventional weapons have become more precise, we do not have to cling to nuclear weapons to accomplish our objectives," she said.

"Our military men and women operating on battlefields strive every day to reduce collateral damage and prevent the loss of innocent lives. Our strategic planners should be guided by the same goals and seek alternatives to nuclear weapons to hold certain targets at risk," Tauscher argued.

"That does not mean, as some suggest, that we should explore smaller yield or "more-usable" nuclear weapons or anything of the sort. A nuclear weapon, no matter what its yield, is still a nuclear weapon. The firewall between nuclear and conventional weapons must remain bold, not blurred," she said.

"We are not in the business of seeking new nuclear capabilities. They are not needed to preserve a strong, credible deterrent," Tauscher said.

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