Trump wants more usable nuclear weapons

IssueFebruary - March 2018
News by Benjamin Kaplan

A new, aggressive US nuclear posture review was released on 2 February. The review advises removing restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons, as well as the development of new low-yield, or tactical, warheads.

The US is looking to add a number of long-range weapons to its arsenal, with accompanying sea/air-based delivery systems. One is a modified Trident D5 submarine-launched missile that can be equipped with either a conventional or a low-yield nuclear warhead. These less-powerful, but still massively-devastating, nuclear warheads would, theoretically be an option in response to a large-scale conventional, chemical, or even cyber attack on the US or NATO.

The proposed revisions to US nuclear doctrine would allow for their use at almost any level of global conflict.

One retired senior Army officer told the American Conservative journal that the advice to build and deploy lower-yield warheads amounted to providing US president Donald Trump with ‘a kind of gateway drug for nuclear war.’

The proposed policy changes largely stem from a report released by the US defense science board (DSB) in December 2016. The DSB report suggested that the already extensive US arsenal is not daunting enough to discourage threats from countries whose own nuclear capabilities may be advancing. What was needed, said the DSB, was a ‘rapidly-deployable and flexible defense option’.

Conflict spiral

Joseph Gerson, a member of the American Friends Service Committee who has invested years of research into nuclear policy, questions this logic: ‘When you’re in a confrontation, your country might take an action, such as developing a new weapons system, which is perceived as essential for your nation’s security but may be interpreted by the other side as increasing the dangers that they face.’ Gerson, author of Empire and the Bomb, added; ‘This creates an upward spiral of conflict.’

Professor Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group, wrote in August that this first-strike outlook was deeply rooted in the doctrine of many countries and would only lead to prolonged conflict: ‘In particular, if the United States had used nuclear weapons against a country in the Middle East it would be wise to expect that at some time in the following years, or perhaps even a decade or more, a covert nuclear, chemical or biological assault would be mounted on Washington, New York or another major US city.’

The new nuclear posture review does not mention that the US is one of the leading nuclear-armed powers today, with over 1,300 warheads actively deployed out of a total of 6,800 nuclear warheads deployed, stockpiled or awaiting disassembly, according to a note published by the Arms Control Association in January.

A report published by the Congressional Budget Office in 2017 stated that the estimated cost to upgrade and maintain all three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad over a 30-year period would cost at minimum £8.5 trillion ($1.2 trillion). Though US president Barack Obama had his own multi-trillion nuclear upgrades planned, the proposed new policy is noticeably more aggressive.

Topics: Nuclear weapons