Politico

Pentagon's top nuclear policy official ousted in new reorganization


The Pentagon’s top official overseeing nuclear and missile defense policy, including a review of America’s atomic weapons posture set to be completed early next year, is leaving her post at the end of the month after only eight months on the job, according to two people familiar with the move.

Leonor Tomero, who has served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy since Jan. 20, is leaving as the Defense Department eliminates her job in a reorganization effort, according to the people and a private email viewed by POLITICO.

“The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy is working to align its organization structure with [Defense Secretary Lloyd] Austin’s priorities to be postured to address the threats of today and tomorrow,” wrote Kim Quarantello, the legislative affairs director for the Pentagon’s policy office, in a notification to Congress last week. “DASD Tomero’s departure is linked to those changes.”

The Pentagon’s new assistant secretary for space, a position Congress recently created, will absorb the responsibility for nuclear and missile defense, one of the people said. The deputy position was eliminated as part of the reorganization, the person said.

It was unclear to some congressional staffers why Tomero was on her way out of the administration after only eight months. Communications from the Pentagon about her departure were “very vague,” one aide told POLITICO.

Tomero didn’t return an immediate request for comment. Quarantello declined to comment once reached by phone, saying she doesn’t talk to reporters. When reached for comment, a defense official emailed, “as a matter of policy, we won’t comment on personnel matters.”

In the deputy position, Tomero led the Biden administration’s effort to review U.S. nuclear weapons policy in the wake of growing threats from China, dubbed the Nuclear Posture Review. Started in July, the review is slated to be completed early next year in conjunction with the department’s National Defense Strategy. Tomero also led a similar review of missile defense policy.

Melissa Dalton, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, will lead the Nuclear Posture Review in Tomero’s place, the first person said.

Dalton has been involved in the nuclear review process for months, telling the House Armed Services Committee in June that the review “will consider and assess U.S. strategy, posture, and policy adjustments and consider program execution risk — all with a goal of maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.”

In August, Dalton was nominated to be the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security affairs.

President Joe Biden has a long history of pushing for less reliance on nuclear weapons. He ran in 2020 on a platform of opposing new nuclear weapons, on multiple occasions saying the current U.S. arsenal is “sufficient.” However, his first defense budget backs two controversial new projects put in motion by former President Donald Trump — a low-yield warhead outfitted on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and research into a new sea-launched cruise missile — as well as doubling down on upgrading all three legs of the nuclear arsenal.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials have issued a series of warnings over China’s growing nuclear capability. At the annual Air Force Association conference held this week, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall warned that “whether intended or not, China is acquiring a first-strike capability.”

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