- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Evaluating the Nuclear Posture Review

In February, the Pentagon released a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a comprehensive overview of the nation’s nuclear forces, their disposition, and plans for the future. Here, Belfer Center experts share their assessments of this NPR and the future of America’s nuclear capabilities.

Graham Allison Douglas Dillon Professor of Government

“The NPR tries to make the case for investments in new, smaller ‘non-strategic’ nuclear weapons. As presented, I find the case unpersuasive. I agree that Russia’s increasing reliance on threats to use non-strategic nuclear weapons presents a significant new challenge. But I believe our current arsenal of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons provides a sufficient deterrent. If not, advocates of new weapons should explain why and demonstrate that new weapons could raise the nuclear threshold.”

Matthew Bunn Professor of Practice

“There is little doubt that the United States needs to replace some of its aging nuclear systems if it is going to maintain a nuclear deterrent. But the notion that the world’s most powerful coun­try needs to spend more than $1 trillion on thousands of nuclear weapons, including new types, for a vast array of missions, to assure its security and that of its allies is both dangerous and wrong. We need a broader public debate about how many nuclear weapons, of what kinds, in what postures, for what purposes, are needed for deterrence, and about how best to reduce the very real dangers of nuclear war.”

Ash Carter Belfer Center Director

“I stated when I was Secretary of Defense and continue to maintain that it is essential to recapitalize the nuclear Triad, because it is the bedrock of deter­rence. During the past 25 years, the United States has made no major new investments in its nuclear forces, yet other countries have conducted vigor­ous buildups. This history does not support the contention that U.S. investments fuel the nuclear programs of others. My views are reflected in the latest Nuclear Posture Review.”

James Miller Senior Fellow

“Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review offers continuity with past U.S. policy and plans, including those in the 2010 NPR. It deserves broad bipartisan support. Its proposal for a low-yield SLBM weapon and a new nuclear-tipped sea- launched cruise missile are sensible responses to changed security conditions, especially Russia and North Korea. Given the President’s sole authority to direct nuclear weapons employment, the central question is whether this reasonable Mattis NPR represents the views of President Trump.”

Gary Samore Executive Director for Research

“The ‘new’ Nuclear Posture Review of the Trump administration basically re-affirms President Obama’s policies, espe­cially replacement of the existing U.S. nuclear triad with a new gen­eration of missiles and bombers. The Trump NPR also calls for two new types of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, which would supplement the two existing types of tactical nuclear weapons in the current arsenal. The need for these new weapons is debatable, but unlikely to be very significant in terms of increasing or decreasing the risk of nuclear war.”

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall Senior Fellow

“I agree with the 2018 NPR’s emphasis on recapitalizing the American nuclear enterprise and modernizing Triad deliv­ery systems to ensure unrivalled deterrence and allied assurance. Our arsenal is aging while China, Russia, and others aggressively pursue new nuclear capabilities and adopt postures that could challenge the effectiveness of our deter­rent. Simultaneously, the U.S. must continue to spearhead worldwide proliferation prevention initiatives, including enforcing the Iran nuclear agreement and leading efforts to take fissile materials off the global playing field.”

William Tobey Senior Fellow

“The new NPR returns to bipartisan verities held before the Obama administration—a threat-based approach to great power competition. Since the previous NPR was completed, we’ve come to understand better the threats posed by Russia, and potentially China. Where the new NPR advances policy, it sensibly responds to changed strategic circumstances; e.g. deploying a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile would address Russian violation of the INF Treaty and reassure our allies in the face of a growing DPRK threat.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

“Evaluating the Nuclear Posture Review.” Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).


Graham Allison headshot

Ash Carter

Gary Samore

Dr. Elizabeth D. Sherwood-Randall