Nuclear weapons are an existential threat to human survival, and so any policy that increases the risk of nuclear catastrophe must be denounced strongly. The human species is quite fortunate that there have thus far been no nuclear attacks outside of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both of which were more than horrible enough.
The Obama-Trump nuclear weapons program has significantly increased “killing power,” as revealed by an important study in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and that’s all the more worrying with Trump’s mental deterioration in the White House.
The Trump administration plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles, according to a former official who has seen the most recent draft of a policy review.
Jon Wolfsthal, who was special assistant to Barack Obama on arms control and nonproliferation, said the new nuclear posture review prepared by the Pentagon, envisages a modified version of the Trident D5 submarine-launched missiles with only part of its normal warhead, with the intention of deterring Russia from using tactical warheads in a conflict in Eastern Europe.
The new nuclear policy is significantly more hawkish that the posture adopted by the Obama administration, which sought to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US defence.
Arms control advocates have voiced alarm at the new proposal to make smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons, arguing it makes a nuclear war more likely, especially in view of what they see as Donald Trump’s volatility and readiness to brandish the US arsenal in showdowns with the nation’s adversaries.
The NPR also expands the circumstances in which the US might use its nuclear arsenal, to include a response to a non-nuclear attack that caused mass casualties, or was aimed at critical infrastructure or nuclear command and control sites.
The nuclear posture review (NPR), the first in eight years, is expected to be published after Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech at the end of January.
Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association, said that the development of new weapons in the US nuclear arsenal was “dangerous, Cold War thinking”.
“The United States already possesses a diverse array of nuclear capabilities, and there is no evidence that more usable weapons will strengthen deterrence of adversaries or compel them to make different choices about their arsenals,” Kimball wrote on the Arms Control Today website.
He also cautioned against moves to broaden the circumstances in which nuclear weapons would be used.
“The use of even a small number of these weapons would be catastrophic,” Kimball said. “Threatening nuclear attack to counter new kinds of ‘asymmetric’ threats is unnecessary, would increase the risk of nuclear weapons use, and would make it easier for other countries to justify excessive roles for nuclear weapons in their policies.”