February 8, 2018
On February 2nd, the Trump administration released a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which revealed an eager attitude towards the development and use of nuclear weapons. Highlighting the dangers posed by North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran, the review called for a vast renovation of our nuclear arsenal. While new nuclear warheads would not be produced, they would be repurposed for additions such as General Dynamics built Columbia-class nuclear missile submarines (a $270 billion project), Northrop Grumman built B-21 strike bombers ($550 million per plane), and Lockheed Martin built F-35 stealth fighters (a $406 billion project). Our 400 current silo-based Minuteman III missiles would be replaced, and hundreds of ICBM launch facilities would be updated.
While these renovations fall in line with a trajectory set by the Obama administration in 2010, Trump varies from his predecessor in his stated willingness to use nuclear weapons to strike against even a non-nuclear state. The NPR affirms an intent to use nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances” which would include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” such as “attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” The NPR also introduced a plan to “strengthen the integration of nuclear and non-nuclear military planning” and develop “low-yield” weapons, fireable from submarines and capable of more moderated destruction. The Trump administration argues that our nuclear arsenal has been the subject of “consistent underfunding” only fixable by “significant and sustained investments”.
The Nuclear Posture Review claims to reaffirm our commitment, in line with the 1968 nuclear treaty, to “arms control and nuclear non-proliferation”. It’s hard to imagine a strategy further removed from that goal. Trump, who famously threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen” upon North Korea, is pushing us closer than ever to nuclear armageddon with this document. By integrating nuclear and non-nuclear military programs, developing more usable “low-yield” weapons, and threatening nuclear attack over increasingly smaller disputes, he blurs the line between conventional warfare and what is supposed to be a distant last resort. The description of “low-yield” weapons as a more harmless alternative to nuclear war is deceiving; these weapons hold roughly the destructive power of the bombs which killed over a hundred thousand people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What Trump considers to be an “extreme circumstance” warranting nuclear attack includes any attack on an allies civilian population or infrastructure. This exhibits a dangerous willingness to wildly destabilize the globe over a minor conflict. Aggressively pursuing a stronger nuclear arsenal and threatening its use over uncertain conditions does not serve to reduce the threat of nuclear war, if anything its normalizes its possibility. It’s hard to imagine a policy pushed by the Trump administration thus far which puts more lives in danger.
- Assess the Doomsday Clock: Published yearly by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock is a yearly measurement of our proximity to nuclear devastation. You can read a summary for the threat level each year here.
- Donate to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN): ICAN is a coalition of non-government organizations in one hundred countries advocating for a strong and effective nuclear weapon ban treaty. Last year their lobbying lead to a UN proposition of a treaty which would ban and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. The treaty, which lead to a Nobel Peace prize for ICAN, was backed by 122 nations, with the US boycotting negotiations. You can donate on their website here.
This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.