The non-proliferation priorities of the Obama administration

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Carrying out President Obama's pledge to secure loose nuclear materials and strengthen the nonproliferation regime, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) plans to increase nonproliferation funding to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) over the next several years and has set out plans to cancel funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.

According to a report from the February 12 edition of Inside the Pentagon, under the budget guidance (which permits agencies to provide feedback before the budget proposal is finalized), the NNSA will receive an additional $80 million in FY2010, an increase which will increase exponentially each year until FY2019, when it will reach $862 million. The NNSA will be receiving $2 billion in FY2010 for nonproliferation efforts alone, which includes the $80 million increase. Such a figure represents a dramatic spike from the amount spent on nonproliferation in FY2008, which totaled less than $1 billion. Equally as important, the OMB in its guidance also effectively cancels RRW, both explicitly and implicitly. It pressures the NNSA to halt RRW funding to explicit accounts and to discontinue research related to the program.

This guidance represents perhaps the most significant policy development regarding nonproliferation to date to come from the young administration. The dramatic increase in funding for nonproliferation, combined with the cutting off of money to RRW, suggests, more than rhetoric or even policy statements, how the Obama Administration plans to combat the nuclear threat. After all, there are very few things that indicate intent more clearly than funding allocation. It seems as though the new president is implementing a cooperative approach to nonproliferation. The NNSA has a history of working effectively with other nations to secure nuclear materials. With more resources at its disposal, these efforts should increase. What is more, OMB guidance could also reflect a resolution of the tension between President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates regarding RRW, a program Mr Gates has supported.

On the international scale, these budget plans may provide incentives for other states to step up their nonproliferation efforts and to reduce emphasis on new weapons technology. This is especially true of the United Kingdom, where the nuclear weapons relationship with the United States has been close. Assuming that RRW is cancelled, it will send a strong signal to the United Kingdom and other countries about the Obama Administration's priorities.

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