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Continuity Is Not Consensus: The Future Nuclear Posture Review

Written by Rebecca Hersman

Leaked a month before its actual release, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) initially unleashed a frenetic and somewhat nasty debate, especially on Twitter among nuclear policy geeks, wonks, advocates, and gadflies. The sky was falling, or nothing had really changed—depending upon whom you asked. An already polarized nuclear policy community found reasons to argue, and it did so vociferously. And yet, in the months since the somewhat anti-climactic release of the “real” report, the NPR has been enjoying a honeymoon of sorts. Domestically, it received strong support and close to full funding in the Republican Congress. In fact, many national security Republicans favored more robust nuclear policy and supported more controversial policy positions on issues like Intermediary-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, New START, and declaratory policy that the NPR moderated or rejected. As for funding, this is the first time since 2008 that the full defense budget has been passed, securing the Department of Defense (DoD) a $686 billion budget for FY 2019. Part of this budget will be used to modernize the nuclear triad, including the nuclear command, control, and communications system (NC3) and its supporting infrastructure. Additionally, the Department of Energy (DoE) received $44.6 billion in appropriations, with $11.1 billion specifically set aside for weapons activities within the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The implementation process within DoD and DoE also seems to be moving along with minimum friction or controversy.

Internationally, the NPR also received surprisingly strong support among allies, especially NATO members. The strong support is in part a confirmation of the changed security environment reflected in the NPR, and in part reflects a sense of relief that the review did not take more extreme or controversial positions that many, especially in Europe, had feared. At the same time, North Korea and Iran have dominated the nuclear landscape and the headlines. But even these factors don’t fully explain the absence of controversy for a community that usually wears its emotions on its Twitter sleeve. One explanation—a classic case of calm before the storm—is that opponents of the Trump administration’s nuclear policy are keeping their powder dry and waiting for the right time to make their case. That time might be right around the mid-term election corner. The NPR’s honeymoon may soon be coming to an end.

Read more and download report at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

About the author

Rebecca Hersman