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Former defense secretary Les Aspin envisioned a radically different U.S. nuclear posture.

The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review
(Nuclear Brief July 8, 2005)

Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced on October 29, 1993, the start of a comprehensive review of America's nuclear posture. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was described as "the first DOD study of its kind to incorporate reviews of policy, doctrine, force structure, operations, safety and security, and arms control in one look."

Building on the defense vision of the Bottom Up Review (BUR) completed on September 1, 1993, the NPR was intended to focus on the deterrent (rather than warfighting) capabilities of nuclear weapons. But since warfighting capabilities are seen as inherent elements of a credible deterrent, this noble intention quickly faced massive opposition from the military services and hardliners.

Other interests, such as maintaining as many weapons as possible and ensuring funding for existing programs, as well as general uncertainty over where the world war heading after the Cold War, combined to doom the NPR from the outset. These difficulties were compounded by the wide gap in the vision of the political leadership that pushed for the review and the military that would have to implement it. The result was a review that created a "nuclear lite" scaled-down Cold War posture rather than the fundamentally altered nuclear posture envisioned by its mentors.

The Process

The review was a "DOD-wide collaborative effort" lead by a five-person steering group co-chaired by Ashton Carter, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Security and Counterproliferation, and Major General John Admire, the Vice Director for Strategic Plans and Policy at Joint Staff. The other three members represented nuclear, space, and intelligence agencies.

The review was organized around six topics, with each topic examined by a team of military and civilian experts from the DOD, Joint Staff, the Services and various agencies. The six topics were:

1. The role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy.
2. U.S. nuclear force structure.
3. U.S. nuclear force operations.
4. Nuclear safety and security.
5. The relationship between U.S. nuclear posture and counterproliferation policy.
6. The relationship between US nuclear posture and threat reduction policy with the former Soviet Union.

The overall objective for the six working groups was to define the issues, analyze the options, prepare recommendations, and to prepare implementing documents. The schedule for the review envisioned that the working groups would finalize their recommendations by late spring 1994. The Secretary of Defense would then submit a final report to the President in June 1994. The elaborate NPR study process was intended to produce several specific products, including a new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) to "replace" two outdated presidential directives:

1. National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 13 on nuclear employment policy signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981.
2. Presidential Decision (PD) 48 on ballistic missile submarine commitments to NATO, signed by President Jimmy Carter in April 1979.

The new PDD, in turn, would have triggered production of two revised military guidance document: the Nuclear Weapons Employment Document (NUWEP) and Annex C (nuclear) to the Joint Strategic Capability Plan (JSCP). (go here for JSCP description)

NPR Infighting

STRATCOM saw Ashton B. Carter's views in the NPR as "an uphill battle."

From the beginning of the review, the military viewed Ashton Carter with skepticism. STRATCOM had collected background information on Carter that indicated "a less-than favorable tong-term outlook for nuclear weapons” and long-term visions of "complete denuclearization." The nuclear command was concerned that persuading such policy makers of a continued need and "wider role" for nuclear weapons would be "an uphill battle." Carter made his view clear in May 1994 -- in the middle of the NPR -- in an interview with Los Angels Times:

"Out intention is to have a military that doesn't need to use [nuclear, biological, and chemical] weapons. We can use conventional forces to prevail anywhere in the world."

After only a few months of work, one of the two co-chairs (Maj Gen John Admire) sent a letter to Ashton Carter in which he expressed concern with the NPR process and how the Steering Group would review and approve the working group findings. This same concern, he said, "has been expressed to me by the Services and CINCs based on input from their working group members."

Four days later, Carter issued a joint letter with Admire to the NPR Steering Group that outlined the "way ahead." The Steering Group's activity would intensify, the letter said, and laid out a work plan for the six working groups that aimed at completing a preliminary draft NPR guidance by mid-February.

The letter immediately triggered an angry memo within STRATCOM, which complained over the lack of progress and tight schedule. Retired Admiral Bobby Inman complained to STRATCOM chief Admiral Henry Chiles that Carter's plan "imposes a schedule that will backfill the vacuum with grab-bag thinking and then ask the Secretary for his blessing….This would be comical if we didn’t have so much at stake."

At stake was the nuclear mission of two of the three legs in the Triad: ICBMs and bombers. In May 1994, Inside the Air Force reported that Carter had proposed a Monad concept -- apparently against the recommendations of the NPR steering group -- that would retire all ICBMs, denuclearize all bombers, and leave the remaining strategic nuclear warheads on only ten strategic submarines. Only 1,550 warheads would be deployed.

STRATCOM commander Admiral Henry Chiles opposed Ashton Carter's plan to end the Triad.

In response to Carter's proposal, the military quickly organized its counteroffensive. In a joint letter to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Director, the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps complained that Carter had pushed his own Monad idea instead of following the recommendations of NPR Working Group 2. Word quickly reached Capitol Hill where opponents to changing the nuclear posture too much joined the battle with statements made from the Senate floor and letters sent to the President. And on April 20, 1994, STRATCOM commander Admiral Chiles testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that although he did "not want to pre-empt the review's conclusions," he did so anyway by stating that "the Triad [bombers and land- and submarine-based missiles] concept remains appropriate."

In the end, Carter's academic vision and elaborate study plan could not match the technical and bureaucratic skills of the military services. According to one civilian participant in the review: "The military officials knew the lay of the land, we didn't. Ash Carter set us up for disaster."

The NPR Outcome

After the April-revolt, the working group efforts collapsed in the early summer of 1994. Rather than waiting for their conclusions, Admiral Chiles asked his Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) to prepare a paper that described what the nuclear posture should look like. The six-page document "Nuclear Forces; Post 1994" outlined the main policy and force structure assumptions and appears to have strongly influenced the final NPR decision.

Chiles didn't keep the paper within STRATCOM but forwarded it to JCS Chairman General Shalikashvili, who said the paper would be useful as the Joint Staff evaluated the conclusions and recommendations on the NPR. "In particular," Shalikashvili said, "I appreciate your perspective on hedging against future uncertainty while we grapple with near-term resource requirements." Chiles subsequently thanked the SAG and said the paper has been "particularly effective" in preparing the NPR.

When the Pentagon released the final conclusions of the NPR on September 22, 1994, the result was a combination of STRATCOM's Sun City and Sun City Extended force structure studies from 1993, and the 1994 SAG paper's recommendations. The force structure contained the following:

Bombers: 20 B-2s, 66 (later changed to 76) B-52s, and non-nuclear role for B-1s
SSBNs: 14 SSBNs, all with D5 missiles, at two bases
ICBM: 500 Minuteman missiles in three wings
Non-strategic: Same dual-capable aircraft in U.S. and Europe; Tomahawk on SSNs

Rather than presenting the conclusions in a final report, however, the Pentagon put together a brief press release with slides containing the main force structure decisions. This material, combined with transcripts of briefings to the Congress and media, constitute the official record on the outcome of the NPR and U.S. nuclear policy in the mid-1990s.

Unknown at the time, the nuclear force structure decided by the 1994 NPR would last much longer than anticipated. Seven years later, in December 2001, the Bush administration's own Nuclear Posture Review extended the timeline another decade by deciding the exact same nuclear force structure. Unless changed, this means that by 2013, when the Bush administration's nuclear posture review is finally implemented, the nuclear force structure decided by the Clinton administration's NPR in 1994 will have lasted nearly 19 years.


© Hans M. Kristensen | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2005

» Memo (U), Maj. Gen. John H. Admire, USMC, Vice Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, Joint Staff, to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Security and Counterproliferation, "Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)," January 6, 1994. [0.06 MB]
Partially declassified and released under the FOIA.

» Note (U), Executive to DCINCSTRAT to DCINCSTRAT, [npr’s lack of progress], January 11, 1994. w/attachment. [0.01 MB]
Partially declassified and released under the FOIA.

» Briefing, Brig. Gen. Tony Tolin, Deputy Director for Strategy and Policy, Joint Staff/J5, "Nuclear Posture Review Key: Key Issues for Review by the Strategic Advisory Group," March 15, 1994. [0.84 MB]
Partially declassified and released under the FOIA.

» USSTRATCOM/Strategic Advisory Group, "Nuclear Force; Post 1994," July 12, 1994. Released under FOIA. [0.84 MB]

» Memo (U), Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, CJCS, to USCINCSTRAT, "Strategic Force Structure," July 28, 1994. [0.03 MB]
Released under the FOIA.

» Pt Ppr (U), USSTRATCOM J004, "Overview of Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) Results," [ca. September 22, 1994]. [0.07 MB]
Released under the FOIA.

» Department of Defense, additional written answers provided for the Senate Armed Services Committee for the September 22, 1994, hearing on the Nuclear Posture Review. [0.07 MB]
Partially declassified and released under the FOIA.

other documents:

» Senate Armed Services Committee, Nuclear Posture Review hearing, September 22, 1994. [3.7 MB]

» Department of Defense, press release on the results of the Nuclear Posture Review, September 22, 1994. [0.2 MB]

» Department of Defense, "Press Conference with Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, General Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS, Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch, Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD-PA, News Release No. 546-94, September 22, 1994. [1.1 MB]

» Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review slides, September 22, 1994. [1.3 MB]

» John Deutch, Assistant Secretary of Defense, prepared testimony for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, October 5, 1994. [0.7 MB]

» "Nuclear Posture Review," excerpt from William Perry, Secretary of Defense, "Annual Report to the President and the Congress," 1995, pp. 83-92.  [0.84 MB]

background information:

» Janne Nolan, An Elusive Consensus (Brookings Institution Press, 1999).

» Michael R. Boldrick, "The Nuclear Posture Review: Liabilities and Risks," Parameters, Winter 1995-96, pp. 80-90.

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  © Hans M. Kristensen