The Commission was tasked by Congress to “examine and make recommendations with respect to the long-term strategic posture of the United States.”  Because that the definition of “strategic posture” is evolving, the Commission examined the nation’s strategic posture in all of its aspects – deterrence strategy, arms control initiatives, and nonproliferation strategies.  This includes all roles of strategic weapons and tools to counter military threats to the United States and its allies, including missile defense.  Additionally, the Commission examined the relationship between the nation’s military capabilities and both its arms control and nonproliferation strategies.

Congress created the Commission as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008.  The House Armed Services Committee named six of the Commission’s twelve members; the Senate Armed Services Committee named the other six, three Democrats and three Republicans each.  The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) was selected to facilitate the commission’s work.  The Institute for Defense Analyses assisted the Commission with the classified and technical aspects of its work, as USIP does not handle classified materials. 

To study the many questions of policy and strategy within the Commission’s purview, the Commission formed, and USIP facilitated, five working groups of experts drawn from across the political spectrum to explore issues of strategic policy and strategy, force structure and deterrence, countering proliferation, the nation’s nuclear infrastructure, and the evolving security environment.

The Commission delivered an interim report on December 15, 2008, and its final report to Congress on May 6, 2009.

Summary of Findings and Recommendations

  • The United States should pursue an approach to reduce nuclear dangers that balances U.S. deterrence, arms control, and nonproliferation interests.
  • Nuclear terrorism against the United States and other nations is a very serious threat.  This requires a much more concerted international response, one which the United States must lead.
  • The surest way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to deny terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons or fissile materials.
  • An accelerated campaign to close or secure the world’s most vulnerable nuclear sites as quickly as possible should be a top national priority.
  • Substantial stockpile reductions would need to be done bilaterally with the Russians, and at some level of reductions with other nuclear powers.
  • At a time when the United States is considering how to reduce nuclear dangers globally, it is essential that it pursue cooperative, binding measures with others.
  • The United States should pursue a step-by-step approach with Russia on arms control, ensuring there is a successor to the START I nuclear arms agreement before it expires at the end of 2009.
  • The United States could maintain its security while reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons and making further reductions in the size of its stockpile, if this were done while also preserving the resilience and survivability of U.S. strategic forces.
  • The Commission sees both U.S. extended deterrence guarantees to its allies and the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime as integral to the achievement of U.S. nonproliferation objectives.
  • The United States should also maintain the goal of the talks on denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula, and do nothing that seems to accept North Korea’s status as a nuclear power.
  • Negotiation and entry into force of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes would be a valuable addition to the global nonproliferation regime.
  • The United States requires a stockpile of nuclear weapons that is safe, secure, reliable, and credible.
  • The United States should develop and, where appropriate, deploy missile defenses against regional missile threats, and also against limited long-range threats from countries like North Korea and Iran.  Defenses against these limited threats should avoid giving Russia or China reason to increase their strategic threats to the United States or its allies.
  • The United States must maintain the six-decade tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons and urge other nuclear states to adhere to it.