The Trump administration has plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and designs to develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles, according to a former military official who has seen the most recent draft of a policy review.
Jon Wolfsthal, a former special assistant to Barrack Obama on arms control and nonproliferation, has said the plans ‘go overboard’ and are ‘totally unnecessary’.
It’s believed the new nuclear posture review is intended to deter Russia from using tactical warheads in a conflict in Eastern Europe.
The review, the first in eight years, is believed to be published after President Trump’s State of the Union address at the end of January.
According to The Guardian, Wolfsthal said earlier drafts of the review were even more hawkish.
My read is this is a walk-back from how extreme it was early on. It doesn’t have as much terrible stuff in it as it did originally.
But it’s still bad.
What I’ve been told by the people who wrote the thing was what they were trying to do was to send a clear deterrent message to Russians, the North Korean and the Chinese.
And there is pretty good, moderate but strong language that makes clear that any attempt by Russia or North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in a massive consequence for them and I think that’s actually moderate, centrist and probably very much needed.
However, Woflsthal says that the plans go beyond what is required:
Where they go overboard, is where they say that in order to make that credible the US needs to develop two new types of nuclear weapons.
The modified Trident warhead, with just the primary (fission) part, Wolfsthal said was ‘totally unnecessary’. The US already has low-yield weapons, B61 gravity bombs and air-launched cruise missiles, in its arsenal.
And putting a low-yield ‘tactical’ weapon on the planned Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines was ‘pretty dumb’ because firing it would give away a submarine’s position.
We spend $5bn per submarine to make it invisible and we put a lot of warheads on each submarine and so what they want to do is take one missile, put one small warhead on it and launch it first, so the submarine is vulnerable to Russian attack.
That strikes me as being unsustainable from a naval strategy point of view.
Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association, highlighted the plans for the new weapons in the US nuclear arsenal as ‘dangerous, Cold War thinking’.
On the Arms Control Today website, Kimball wrote:
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.
He added caution against moves to broaden the circumstances for using nuclear weapons:
The use of even a small number of these weapons would be catastrophic.
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.
So when Trump says he wants to make America great again, does he mean in a Cold War way? Because that’s terrifying.