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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: A Senior Defense Department Official April 06, 2010

Background Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review from the Pentagon

STAFF: Good afternoon. We've had requests from a number of you to provide background context-setting briefings before major issues are unveiled and discussed, in order to provide a better understanding of the issues and enable you to have more context and information for the stories.

So we are trying to respond to that, and that is what this is today. This is a context-setting background briefing, which is going to be led by (briefer name deleted), who is the (briefer title deleted), and who has been a key player in the development of the Nuclear Posture Review.

(Briefer name deleted) is going to present information and then will be happy to take questions. Information is embargoed until the release of the NPR report. And with that, I'll turn it over to (briefer name deleted).


Q Do you know what's the attribution, then? Do you know?

STAFF: Pardon me?

Q "Senior Defense official"?

STAFF: "Senior Defense official."

Q And when's the release?

STAFF: I think the White House addressed that earlier today, I believe.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That -- we should probably know precisely what the White House said.


SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And are we putting up slides or not?

STAFF: No, they -- (off mike).


STAFF: You can pass out the slides -- (off mike).

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Why don't we do that?

Mr. Gibbs said today that the White -- the president will unveil the Nuclear Posture Review that he and others have been working on for quite some time. I guess that's not very specific is it.

So this is not about the contents of this review. It's to provide context for you to understand the process and give you a little insight into the structure of the report and the -- some historical context.

So let me first of all thank you all for your time and interest and the opportunity to do this with you. And just to be clear, I am a co-director of the Nuclear Posture Review. There were two of us, one from the Joint Staff. And our role was to manage a process that teed up issues for the leadership.

The -- let me begin by saying that over the next five to six weeks, we're going to have a busy nuclear season; among many milestones, Nuclear Posture Review, new START agreement, nuclear security summit, NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] review conference. And the Nuclear Posture Review itself is the high-level statement of strategy and policy that will guide much of what you'll hear about over the next few weeks.

It's appropriate that we're gathered here today, which is the one-year anniversary of the Prague speech. The Prague speech is where he -- where the president set out a two-fold agenda, one for taking concrete steps towards the goal of achieving the safety and security of a world free of nuclear weapons, a task that he defined as a long-term challenge, perhaps couldn't be accomplished in his lifetime. And thus, accordingly, the second main element of that speech was a commitment to maintaining a deterrent so long as nuclear weapons remain, and ensuring the safety, security and effectiveness of that deterrent for ourselves and our allies.

And what we have been asked to do in the Nuclear Posture Review is to have a concrete, pragmatic work plan for moving forward this agenda. And the agenda in the NPR, as you'll see when it's released, is integrated with these other elements of policy and strategy that will be reflected in the -- the nuclear security summit, new START, and the NPT Review Conference.

If you've all got these slides, let me refer you to what is now slide four, which says, at the top: congressional direction. This Nuclear Posture Review is mandated by the Congress. Of note, it's the third such review conducted since the end of the Cold War. There was a Nuclear Posture Review in 1994, and one in 2001, by the Bush administration.

And so this was the third. And it's not quite correct to say it's the third congressionally mandated review. The first one wasn't congressionally mandated.

But this one was congressionally mandated in a very specific way. The Congress designated that this would be a DoD-led but interagency review. It designated that -- well, the list of -- they're not numbered anymore -- but seven topics would be considered thoroughly in the review.

I would note that the scope of this review is much broader than the prior two reviews. The 1994 review essentially asked, "We have this Cold War nuclear force structure left. What do we do?" And the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review looked a little more broadly at strategy questions but was very much focused on forces and capabilities.

This review, as you'll see from this list of questions, is -- it's much broader, and it encompasses the roles of missile defense and conventional strike and force levels, the weapons complex. And specifically mandated was the question about the role of arms control in shaping the U.S. nuclear posture and how that's integrated with the rest of our nuclear strategy.

Slide five takes us to a few comments about the scope, conduct and result of the review. As I've already indicated, the scope is quite broad. The conduct of the review -- I touched on the interagency point. This was DoD-led, but interagency in character. There were within the review four working groups that generated analytic product on four different sets of topics. And these were co-chaired with our interagency partners, so, for example, we had a working group on international issues bearing on the design of the U.S. nuclear posture, and that was a co-chaired activity with the State Department. We had a working group on the sustainment of the nuclear stockpile and infrastructure issues, and that was co-chaired with the Department of Energy.

So this was qualitatively interagency in character in the making. And then since the autumn, since September, we've been bringing forward results into the interagency process for the more formal, normal kind of interagency review activity. So that's the interagency point.

The consultative point is, we talked to a lot of people. We wanted to hear their thinking. There are a lot of stakeholders in the U.S. nuclear posture. And many of those are, of course, domestic, so we had outreach activities with, of course, the Congress, but also the analytical community. We had international outreach with -- I think the number we have here is over 80 engagements with stakeholders in these issues, including the Congress, allies, partners, NGOs, et cetera.

That's not to say that -- I mean, this was very useful from our point of view, of making sure that we understood the main elements of the debate on the topics that we were thinking about, making sure we had not failed to turn over every important stone, to find what was lying underneath.

And it was an opportunity also for us to test some ideas, as they were maturing for us. Senior leadership engagement -- it's a shorthand in the nuclear business that nuclear weapons are the president's weapons.

This president has been directly engaged in this review, in a very deliberative, thoughtful, thorough way. You've seen signs of the vice president's engagement. He gave a major speech on this topic at National Defense University a month or so ago.

We've had the secretaries of State and Energy engage with Secretary Gates in ongoing review of these issues. And also on the military side, there have been multiple tank engagements. And Chairman Mullen and the vice chairman engaged all through the process.

So any of you connoisseurs of Nuclear Posture Reviews might know that the 1994 review was essentially a very small group of people focused on a very narrow question. And what we have here today is a much larger group. And if you will, the stepping stone in the middle of the 2001 NPR never really quite had the leadership buy-in that it needed.

The Nuclear Posture Review of 2001 was leaked, before it was done, in unclassified form. And the last administration then found it difficult ever to talk about the results of the review, because it was talking about a leaked classified document.

And there weren't many signs of senior leadership commitment to the agenda put forward in that Nuclear Posture Review. You can expect to see many signs of leadership commitment to this Nuclear Posture Review. It reflects a very high degree of buy-in from across the civilian and uniform sides, and across the USG [United States government] as a whole, and including the president.

The next slide, which I think is slide six, at the top says "Key Objectives." This is about as much of a glimpse of the actual contents of this review as people were comfortable sharing before its formal release. We needed, of course, organizing concepts. The report itself is now 80 pages or so in length -- something like that. And we needed organizing concepts to arrange our findings and recommendations. And we've built them around these five key objectives.

Their order reflects -- I mean, the first one reflects a sense of our urgency about proliferation and terrorism. We will talk to declaratory policy in the report. We'll talk about the future of U.S.-Russia strategic stability, U.S.-China strategic stability. We attach a lot of interest and time to the topic of assuring our allies in a changing security environment. And we will make some clear and definitive statements about how we intend to ensure the safe, secure and effective arsenal that the president called for.

The next slide -- the last two slides talk about contents that are already in play in the public domain, because in this case the details of the new START treaty are already somewhat in discussion.

And in the case of the final slide, it's because we put forward a budget before we put forward a report. And many of the details of the budget are in public discussion. But let me just summarize briefly each of these two slides.

So the NPR was tied to the new START process. Indeed our explicit guidance from the president was that the first phase of the Nuclear Posture Review would focus on providing guidance to the new START negotiators, in terms of the requirements of strategic stability, at a lower number.

What objective should define the lower number and which numbers? And we had some very intense interactions with our colleagues at DOE and State and Strategic Command. Strategic Command was particularly active in this work.

But this was interagency in character, this piece of the analysis, as well. And the result of that phase of the analysis was reflected in the statements made, by the U.S. and Russian presidents, at the summit in July.

That did not end the interaction between NPR and new START negotiation. There's been a continuing analytical connection between the two activities. And you'll see more about that in the next few days.

The slide talks to the results of new START. And so for the sake of time, let me just move on to the final slide, the budget request. And this slide talks to the part of the budget that's related to the stockpile of nuclear weapons.

There are also delivery systems that are -- that are budget-relevant, some nonproliferation, counter-proliferation and counterterrorism investments germane to the budget, but this is just about the stockpile piece and the complex.

And you've seen high-level statements from administration leaders about the fact that there's essentially been 20 years of neglect and underfunding in this complex; that a lot of money has gone in support of stockpile stewardship activities to very good effect, over the last decade or so. But stock -- but that money has essentially gone to the Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia -- the so-called weapons-design laboratories -- although they don't design nuclear weapons anymore, a somewhat of a misnomer from the past.

But very little money has gone into the production complex. Again, "production" not quite the right word, because we don't produce new nuclear weapons. But there's a large complex that works with the elements of the warheads that's in neglect and disarray and has been left that way for a long time. And if we want to reduce the number of nuclear weapons we keep in reserve, if we want to increase the safety, security and effectiveness of our arsenal, it's time to fix this problem. And so you see the details here of the -- not the -- not the precise details on the dollars figures, but the budget that went forward reflected commitments in each of those areas.

So I have to apologize for hand-waving about the real -- the detailed contents of the report beyond these elements. This is really a session for you to ask questions you would like about context and process and the past, the prior reviews, and to discuss any things that are already on the record.

And one final note. The report of the Nuclear Posture Review will exist only in unclassified form. There will not be a classified Nuclear Posture Review from which we have redacted a lot of information and then just put forward an unclassified variant. This reflected a decision early in the process about all of the DoD reviews. And in an effort to be fully transparent in our choices and the thinking behind them, we did not want to leave big open questions about what might be left unsaid because it's in the classified domain.

And of course you all know the Defense Department processes well, you know there are classified implementation processes, guidance processes. So it's not that it's free of classified aspects, but the report as such and all of the policy findings and recommendations and all of the logic behind them will be presented at the unclassified level.

So with that, let me open it up to your questions. And please forgive me if I too often have to say you'll find out more about that in the next few days.


Q Your key objectives. One of the things the president has said is no new nuclear warheads. And I'm wondering if -- where that is covered in your key objectives.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The fifth. Sustain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal for the long term so long as nuclear weapons remain. And to do that, we had to satisfy ourselves how to sustain in the context of a presidential commitment to --

Q No new?


Q What about the idea of modifications? Is that covered in number five? Will there be -- was that covered under the idea "no new warheads," or is there a separate definition of modifications that allow modifications but doesn't consider a modified weapon a new weapon?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's a great question. We'll have a good answer for you. (Pause.) You're inviting me into the substance of the report.

Q Yes.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We worked very hard to get that right. We think we have it right, we think we have a -- and more than that, a thorough answer to the question.

Sorry. Back there.

Q You said the last report was in 2001. So have people been working on this since 2001, or how long has this been in the making?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Darn near forever. (Chuckles.)

Q Because -- the reason I ask is, you're calling it President Obama's review, but if it was -- if people before him were working on that, how do you -- how does that work?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They were not. This NPR formally stood up a year ago next week, a year ago last week, with a classified presidential study directive, which was followed by classified guidance from the secretary. And it's been under way at full bore ever since.

And the basic analytical process was to focus early on, on the new START negotiating inputs, then to tackle -- I mean, there was a lot of parallel processing, but roughly speaking, in a crude way -- then to parallel process -- I'm sorry -- then to tackle all of those other seven questions and then to be -- to bring forward options for discussion.

We were not mandated to bring forward the answer -- "Here's your -- here's your report, Mr. President; please sign it," We were mandated to bring forward options for discussion by the leadership in order to have the first truly broad across-the-top-of-the-government discussion of nuclear weapons policy, strategy and capabilities in decades. And that's taken us a while.

But it does -- I should say, just in the way of providing context and information, the legislation that mandated the -- that assigned this to the new administration also on the same page created the congressionally commissioned -- sorry -- the congressionally directed Commission on the Future of the U.S. Strategic Posture, the so-called Perry-Schlesinger commission, which was aimed at informing the Congress about the possibility of a bipartisan long-term approach to problems of nuclear policy, strategy and capability. And that report was issued a year ago now, by the U.S. Institute for Peace. And so, I mean, I tell you that because to the extent there was prior work done, that was sort of the prior work. There were a lot of people in the administration who had participated in that, but none of them as commissioners. So it was not in any way binding.

But this report is President Obama's -- the -- you will hear the word "foundational." He considers this a foundational document of his administration; reflects his thinking, his leadership.


Q Earlier, you mentioned four working groups: one, international issues, co-chaired with State; the other one, sustainment, with Energy. What are the other two working groups?

And I guess a second question. They had these senior-level discussions. When did they have -- I mean, is there -- can you point to like a weekend, maybe up at Camp David, where everybody sat down and discussed this or -- or just that sort of thing.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. The four working groups were a -- well, a general one on policy and strategy, which I and my Joint Staff co-director co-chaired, so that was policy and Joint Staff; the international dimensions working group, which was policy and State; the stockpile and infrastructure working group, which was the acquisition side of the house here, AT&L and -- and NSA. And what was the fourth?

STAFF: Capability and force structure.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you. Capability and force structure, which was OSD policy and STRATCOM. And these working groups -- again, I just want you to be clear. The mandate was not to provide answers. It was to provide analytical input.

Now, there was no -- to the best of my knowledge, there was no Camp David retreat when they sat down and deliberated all of this. This has been -- we counted them. How many interagency meetings have there been?

STAFF: A hundred and two.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Camp David would have been more fun.

So, but a hundred and two, and that's -- that includes the working group activities. So formal IPCs, DCs, PCs -- I think the number is closer to 30. I think it was 32 before last week. And I don't know quite what to count this week.

But so it's been sustained through a series of issues, sometimes being asked to go back and do more analysis, sometimes just being asked to provide more context, to provide readings on various topics.

Sorry, you were next.

Q So will the report have any kind of road map of 10 years, 15 years, 20 years; this is the kind of force structure you can have, how many weapons you have, how they're going to be deployed.

A lot of these questions sort of seem to be asking, okay, if you want to implement the president's agenda and go to lower levels, how do you do that? So does this report do that?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It does. Well, the NPR is mandated. The legislation says it's a five-to-10-year look. I think it's safe to say that we're trying to put the five-to-10-year steps into a broader framework.

Q So it will say, at the end of 10 years, we can have a force structure that is this size and this composition.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me not prejudge for you -- I mean, I want to be careful not to imply anything more about content than I feel is the right -- I think that's -- I shouldn't say anything more on that topic.

You were next, I think.

Q On force structure, I was just thinking, in the last year, there's been a lot of changes in the military -- standing up Global Strike Command and committing to a new bomber -- (inaudible). What -- in the discussions, is it -- are there new things that come for force structure, or is this really implementing all these previous changes that occurred in the -- in the -- the previous years?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In a general way, I think there's a lot about the report that's going to be familiar, because you've already heard about new START, the budget has gone forward, and we've had national leaders talking about these topics for a year now. On the other hand, there will be some new there.

I think you were next.

Q Yeah, how would you characterize the debate that led to the final version of the NPR within this administration? Was it a fierce debate? Was there resistance, opposition? And does that explain the fact that it's -- it was delayed for a few months? How would you characterize it best?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Not -- the word would not be "fierce." The word would be "thorough." Why -- let me -- why was -- why was it delayed? And the allegation has been made it was delayed because there was deep disagreement and a big fight.

Q Mm-hmm.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And I think that's not correct. This scope -- the scope of this review is different from the prior reviews. We had to tackle something nobody had really tackled before, which was how to balance -- every president but one since Harry Truman has said it is the objective of the United States to implement Article VI of the NPT, and to create a world in which we enjoy -- freedom from nuclear weapons.

Different presidents have said it different ways. There's only one who hasn't expressed the commitment. But it was nothing that really informed the design of the U.S. nuclear posture. It informed our arms-control strategies, our nonproliferation strategies.

But here's a president who wants to take concrete steps to align our posture with the possibilities and the challenges that are in front of us in the 21st century. And so conceptually, this was much more challenging -- be the first point.

And in the past, it was enough. The 2000 -- the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review said it addressed how large a nuclear triad to keep and a negotiating strategy with Russia for further reductions. That was it. I mean, not simple, but not all that complicated. So my first point about why it was delayed is that the scope was very different and very broad and required dealing with a set of issues many people had not dealt with before.

Secondly, the process was different. If you've got a broad scope, you have to have a broad process. You have to have the State Department at that table to have that discussion; you have to have the Department of Energy there. You have to have -- when we say these are the president's weapons intended to shape -- to be used to shape the security environment, you have to have the people around the president at that table. So we could have -- well, okay. So scope, process, and context.

The security environment today is very different from before. We had, four years ago, two presidential -- five years ago, two presidential candidates who could agree about one thing, the nuclear problem. We agree that we've got a very hard problem in front of us, the challenge -- the fact that states like North Korea and Iran, not known for their orientation to the international status quo and respecting the rule of law, et cetera, are interested in these capabilities and the means to deliver them. And we have, of course, the continuing evidence that al Qaeda and others are interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. These are alarming developments that it's possible to do more about, and we should -- but it begs the question of what.

So we could have accomplished a 1994-like Nuclear Posture Review in a very short period of time. Did we have divided views on things? Of course we did. But the divisions were not really between departments.

For example, if one of the questions is, what should we do to strengthen the assurance of our allies in the changing security environment and how do we balance extended deterrence with nonproliferation objectives, well, the regional people in the Defense Department and the State Department and the National Security Council generally look at those questions in one way, whereas the nonproliferation bureaus generally look at the question in a slightly different way.

So I think it would be inaccurate to state that there was deep interdepartmental division. What there was, was a lot of deep exploration of fundamental questions, and debate over them, because they required bringing together different views about priorities. And I'm proud of the result. I mean, I think it attests to our seriousness about the topic, not our difficulty in getting to an answer.

Q Can I follow on that?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: She's been waiting patiently. I'll come back to you.

Q Thanks.

Were there any decisions that you had to put off, for the future, that is something that you think requires more study, beyond what this report will say about them?

And on the sort of political side of things, when did you brief the Hill on what appear to be the final results or findings of the review? And what kind of feedback are you getting, in terms of GOP acceptance or rejection of your plans for modernization?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry, the first was, how much have we briefed the Hill? Sorry.

Q Well, going back to the first one, it's, what if any questions did you look at that you decided had to be put off for future study? And you aren't going to come out with a finding --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think we'll leave that to the discussion of the report itself.

And on the Hill, we've been engaging with the Hill all along. We went up when we started the reviews, and not just the NPR, and said, okay, here's what you've asked us to do. Here's how we've organized ourselves to do it. Here's the guidance we were given, by our leadership, that we think aligns with what you asked us to do.

Then we gave them some interim updates. Then when the budget went forward, we went up and gave briefings on the aspects of the review that bore on those budget decisions.

And we have been -- since the milestone on new START of 10 days ago -- been talking with Hill about the conclusions of both of these processes. And I won't characterize GOP reactions. I'll leave that -- leave that for you, or when we had the actual contents of the report to discuss, it's clearly Secretary Gates's commitment and the president's commitment to have a result here that's sustainable over time.

We have not had a sustainable nuclear policy since the Cold War. We haven't had the bipartisan foundation for it, and we haven't -- and that's because we haven't had agreement about the fundamentals, about direction.

The Perry-Schlesinger commission pointed a pathway forward. We're not following the Perry-Schlesinger commission in every detail. But the secretary has reminded us of the importance of having a result that's viable politically. And the proof will be in the pudding.

Sorry. You --

STAFF: You want one or two more, and we'll bring it to a close here.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry. A quick follow-up.

Q Yes. To follow on the drafting statement, if the divisions are not as you described it, as others have said they were, can you offer what some of the divisions or points of contention in the last year have been? I mean, was -- you know, what -- some of the ones that bubbled to the top most frequently? Is it replacing the warhead? Is it the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? What are the ones that were the most, you know, discussed or required the most --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, everything required a lot of discussion. I mean, these were all hard -- I'm not sure -- I think I would do -- I wouldn't contribute to your understanding of the process to suggest that there was a short list of topics that proved highly contentious. There was a very deliberate movement through all five of these objectives and all of the elements. And -- yeah, I think I shouldn't say anything more than that.

Q The QDR telegraphed a little bit of this in its -- well, back in February talked about the need to consult with allies and partners on a new tailored, regional deterrence and architecture. And it said here these architectures -- these regional architectures and new capabilities, as detailed in the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and in the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review, make possible a reduced role for nuclear weapons in our national-security strategy; to which -- (inaudible) -- will this be fleshed out, because it also implies a new -- a nuclear -- extending our nuclear deterrence agreements or commitments to other parts of the world that we traditionally didn't have them in.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The report does say more on that topic. We give -- if our -- our view of the security environment is that the major challengers to peace and security in the nuclear domain in the 21st century are the -- what we're not calling rogue states. You won't -- you won't find rogue states in any of these documents. But from states seeking nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them in defiance of the international community and in violation of their treaty obligations. That's a long way of saying rogue states.

And if that's your -- that is our view of the primary nuclear -- well -- and the nuclear terrorism threat, these are the two nuclear dangers most in front of us today, and if those are the two dangers most in front of us today, then the assurance of our allies -- reassurance of our allies is very important.

And so cutting across these reviews is this theme about strengthening deterrence for the problems for which it's relevant in the 21st century. And as states like this increase their reliance on nuclear weapons, we don't want to increase our reliance on nuclear weapons because they are. And we have other means of deterrence and assurance that we can increase our reliance on, such as missile defense, such as non-nuclear strike capabilities.

Q (inaudible) conventional D5?


Q For example. Would that be the newness -- because you talked about familiarity, we're going to be familiar with a lot of it; i.e., we're going to see this and not -- and yawn, that a lot of it won't be seen as new. Will this be seen as new?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I didn't say you'd yawn, but that's okay.

Q Well, I'm saying it.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know. I mean, that seems to me to go to the actual contents of the report, and I'd rather let you draw that.

Q (Off mike) -- but we're going to -- 80 pages. Will there be some newness there in terms of regional -- new regional structures?


Q Okay.

Q (Off mike) -- change any assumptions there that allow you to reduce how many warheads you need in targeting?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't think we have a Q&A on that topic. I don't know what to say about that. Good question. Sorry.

Q Does the report take a position on the future of tactical weapons in Europe, tactical nuclear weapons?


Q What does it say? (Laughter.)

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Just the right thing. (Laughs, laughter.)

STAFF: (Off mike) -- it looks like we're getting to the point where the rest is going to have to be answered at a later date.

Q In terms of the force structure, will you give details below -- of how you distribute the new START numbers?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You're asking again the content, and I'd rather not go there.

STAFF: Well, I think you've all done a good job of fleshing out content --

Q Is there going to be a briefing tomorrow on the record? I know at the White House there's going to be something. Will there be people -- (off mike)?

STAFF: This will -- this will be able to be used on background – as a senior defense official -- when the report is released. And I think that that will all come together very soon. And I'll see you, probably, all tomorrow.

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