Yet even now, concerns about the technology are so strong that the Obama administration has acceded to a demand by Russia that the United States decommission one nuclear missile for every one of these conventional weapons fielded by the Pentagon. That provision, the White House said, is buried deep inside the New Start treaty that Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev signed in Prague two weeks ago.
Called Prompt Global Strike, the new weapon is designed to carry out tasks like picking off Osama bin Laden in a cave, if the right one could be found; taking out a North Korean missile while it is being rolled to the launch pad; or destroying an Iranian nuclear site — all without crossing the nuclear threshold. In theory, the weapon will hurl a conventional warhead of enormous weight at high speed and with pinpoint accuracy, generating the localized destructive power of a nuclear warhead.
The idea is not new: President George W. Bush and his staff promoted the technology, imagining that this new generation of conventional weapons would replace nuclear warheads on submarines.
In face-to-face meetings with President Bush, Russian leaders complained that the technology could increase the risk of a nuclear war, because Russia would not know if the missiles carried nuclear warheads or conventional ones. Mr. Bush and his aides concluded that the Russians were right.
Source: David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker for The N.Y. Times.