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a growing world population on climate, food, and energy—which greatly complicate the security challenges facing policy makers today. This changing paradigm requires that the United States take additional measures (1) to assure our allies that we are still a trusted security partner and (2) to deter potential adversaries from taking aggressive action that could threaten global stability. Every U.S. president since Truman has affirmed the role of nuclear weapons as a supreme deterrent and protector of last resort of U.S. national security interests.

Recently, President Bush called for a “…credible deterrent with the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs, including our obligations to our allies.”1 How can this be achieved? Can we continue on a path of nuclear reductions while maintaining the national security benefits of nuclear deterrence? Science and engineering will play a key role in the new paradigm for nuclear deterrence, “capability-based deterrence.”


Capability-based deterrence is based on the principle that an agile, repeatedly demonstrated capability to develop and produce deployable nuclear weapons will greatly strengthen the deterrent and enable meaningful reductions in the size of the total stockpile. In this scenario, the country can rely, in part, on a working weapons complex that could deliver limited numbers of nuclear weapons should the situation require rather than on large numbers of reserve or deployed warheads for contingency purposes.

The new strategy would provide the benefits of deterrence while enabling us to meet some key goals, such as reducing the stockpile of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) stated in December 2007—when he proposed a transformation of the nuclear weapons complex—that “the United States’ future deterrent cannot be based on the old Cold War model of the number of weapons. Rather, it must be based on the capability to respond to any national security situation, and make weapons only if necessary.”2 This adoption of capability-based deterrence would represent a shift in the emphasis of our nuclear policy. The role of science and engineering would become a critical element in establishing the agility and confidence necessary for this strategy to work.

The principal elements of capability-based deterrence are (1) the weapons themselves (albeit fewer and potentially designed to meet the specific requirements of this strategy); (2) the design, development, and manufacturing elements of the weapons complex. It is not only the capabilities of our military forces that


Remarks by the President to Students and Faculty at National Defense University, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C., May 1, 2001.


Remarks by Thomas D’Agastino on the Introduction of the Complex Transformation PEIS, U.S. Department of Energy Headquarters, Washington, D.C., December 17, 2007.

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