President Barack Obama has set a goal of a "world without nuclear weapons" but the Pentagon is leaning in a seemingly contradictory direction: a modernised nuclear arsenal.
The new administration has signalled its intent to swiftly engage Russia in negotiations on deeper cuts in their respective arsenals, with the ultimate aim of reducing them to zero.
But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has been leading another kind of charge, arguing in the final months of the previous administration that deeper cuts must be underpinned by production of a new warhead to replace an ageing nuclear stockpile.
"To be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernisation programme," he said in an October 28 speech.
Gates' speech at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, says Jan Kristensen, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, was "an attempt to set a bottom line."
In Kristensen's view, the secretary's message was:
"You can cut the numbers, but below that we need to have a strong capability, not only to maintain what we have, but also to build up if we need to."
Kristensen added: "That is the big clash."
Gates is not alone in his thinking.