President Donald Trump’s ongoing nuclear posture review has begun to yield findings indicating the US may create new nuclear weapons for the first time in decades — and it could increase the chances of nuclear war.
The US’s last nuclear posture review, carried out under former President Barack Obama in 2010, was “explicit about its objective,” Robert Joseph, a senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy told Air Force Magazine in September.
Essentailly, under Obama, the US prioritised stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, didn’t consider Russia, China, or North Korea, as a threat, and maintained that the US shouldn’t build any new nuclear platforms.
But in the seven years since the Obama administration’s evaluation, the world has changed significantly. Russia has emerged as a serious adversary in almost every dimension of US foreign policy. China has commenced a massive land grab in the South China Sea. North Korea has demonstrated thermonuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
In light of this new challenge, Trump’s review seeks to answer the question: Can America still deter adversaries with its existing arsenal?
With the current framework of mutually assured destruction, or the strategy whereby any nuclear exchanges between nuclear powers would result in the total destruction of both countries, reports indicate that defence officials are concerned that the US is self-deterred from using its strategic nuclear forces.
Basically, a rising question over if the US would actually initiate the end of the world by using its massive nuclear arsenal against Russia or China may erode the credibility of the deterrent.
So some involved in the review have started advocating for the US to build smaller nuclear weapons, which Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, told Business Insider would be more “usable.”
A new class of smaller nuclear weapons “would lower the threshold for use” without providing any real advantages, according to Reif.
Reif challenged the idea of mini-nukes by asking what targets would require a small nuclear weapon instead of conventional bombs. The US has massive ordnance penetrator bombs meant to smash bunkers deep underground.
The proliferation of precision-guided munitions now means that smaller explosives hitting closer to targets preclude the need for massive nuclear explosions that would almost certainly in any use case kill civilians.
Additionally, the US already has tactical, low-yeild nuclear weapons stashed around Europe. Besides signalling the US’s resolve to participate in nuclear war should the need arise, it’s unclear what purpose these weapons would serve.
“The United States already has hundreds of nuclear warheads that can be detonated or configured to detonate at low yields,” said Reif. “New low-yield weapons are a solution in search of a problem.”
“If the US moves now to develop a new nuclear weapon, it will send exactly the wrong signal,” Steven Andreasen, a former State Department official told Politico.
“If the world’s greatest conventional and nuclear military power decides it cannot defend itself without new nuclear weapons, we will undermine our ability to prevent other nations from developing or enhancing their own nuclear capabilities and we will further deepen the divisions between the US and other responsible countries.”
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