The Pentagon has published the nuclear review ordered by President Donald Trump when he came into office a year ago. The new strategy calls for an increased number of “tactical nukes” to counter Russian threats.
The US military will revamp its nuclear arsenal and develop new low-yield atomic bombs with an eye toward Russia, according to the Pentagon’s new policy statement released Friday.
The renewed enthusiasm for nuclear weapons is a shift from the presidency of Barack Obama, who called for the elimination of nuclear weapons in a landmark speech in Prague in 2009, but nonetheless moved to modernize the arsenal.
What the Pentagon’s nuclear posture review says:
- US concerns about Russia overshadow worries about North Korea, Iran and China.
- Russia believes America is unlikely to use its regular, large-yield nuclear weapons to avoid large-scale retaliation.
- The US and NATO require a wider range of low-yield nuclear weapons to counter that Russian belief.
- The US should continue the nuclear modernization program ordered by Obama, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic weapons, submarine-launched rockets and bombs delivered by plane.
- Instead of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in Obama’s plan, the US should be more assertive.
- The new bombs would repurpose existing warheads, allowing the US to adhere to arms control agreements.
- China is also a potential nuclear adversary, and the US arsenal should prevent Beijing from using its nuclear weapons in Asia.
‘Nuclear arms race’
The document could bolster a new kind of arms race, said Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. “It’s not an arms race in terms of numbers like during the Cold War, but it is an arms race that involves more than just the United States and Russia, and it involves upgrading and improving the capability of existing nuclear forces,” he said.
“We are on the cusp of a new era of nuclear proliferation,” warned Barry Blechman, co-founder of the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan anti-nuclear proliferation think tank in Washington. “This is the great nuclear danger raised by the new nuclear policy.”
Greg Weaver, deputy director of strategic capabilities at the Pentagon, disputed the idea that the review lowered the threshold for America to use nuclear weapons. “The US and NATO require a wider range of credible low-yield nuclear options to do a very specific thing: convince the Russian leadership that if they initiate limited nuclear use, in a war with the alliance, our response will deny them the objective they seek and impose costs that far outweigh those benefits they can achieve.”
Shifting priorities: The Pentagon is shifting its priorities from the fight against Islamist militants to a great power competition with Moscow and Beijing, according to a new national defense strategy unveiled in January, and this nuclear strategy forms part of that shift.
What are low-yield nuclear weapons? The types of weapons the document is talking about are known as tactical nukes or nonstrategic nuclear weapons. They typically have a strength of less than 20 kilotons. This is still devastating and comparable to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The new weapons would be launchable from submarines or ships and could supposedly avoid air defenses more easily.
Is this a complete reversal? Barack Obama undertook a modernization of the nuclear arsenal, and the new Pentagon document is largely in line with the previous review in 2010.
What does Russia’s stockpile look like? US officials argue Russia has expanded and modernized its low-yield weapons since 2010.
What happens next? According to the recommendations, the US would first reduce the payload of “a small number” of existing long-range ballistic missiles carried by Trident strategic submarines and in the long term, develop a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.
aw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)