The US Department of Defence’s latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) argues that Washington must create a more effective nuclear deterrent, with Russia and other nations holding the “misconception” that the US would not use its large-scale strategic nuclear weapons in response to nuclear aggression from other countries. Therefore the Pentagon must increase the number of low-yield weapons.
“Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,” the NPR said.
Critics say the new stance will increase the chance of a miscalculation between the pair, with Russia’s response unlikely to dampen such thoughts. “The bellicose and anti-Russian nature of this document is obvious,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that it was “deeply disappointed”.
“We, of course, will have to take into account the approach enacted now in Washington and to take the needed measures to secure our own safety,” the ministry said.
The review claims Russia has a stockpile of 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons, while the US has a few hundred active low-yield weapons deployed in Europe. US officials also argue that since the last NPR in 2010 Russia has expanded and modernised its non-strategic nuclear weapons and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. For the first time publicly, the review also says that Russia is developing a hypersonic, nuclear-powered undersea torpedo.
“The US is not arms racing, we are responding to Russian initiative here,” said Greg Weaver, deputy director of strategic capabilities at the Pentagon. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied the accusations in the report and said that Moscow was ready to work constructively with Washington over arms stockpiles.
While the previous review, in former President Barack Obama‘s first term, had called for a modernisation of the US nuclear capability, the more aggressive stance stands at odds with Mr Obama’s administration and fits Mr Trump’s “peace through strength” world view. The focus on Russia is also in line with the Pentagon shifting priorities from the fight against jihadists to “great power competition” with nations like Russia and China.
Both the current president and the Pentagon say the new review treads the fine line between maintaining a nuclear deterrence and encouraging a push for arms control.
In a statement following the release of the review, Donald Trump said: “The strategy develops capabilities aimed at making use of nuclear weapons less likely. It enhances deterrence of strategic attacks against our nation, and our allies and partners, that may not come in the form of nuclear weapons. And, importantly, it reaffirms our commitment to arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, maintains the moratorium on nuclear testing, and commits to improving efforts to prevent, detect and respond to nuclear terrorism.”
The new NPR calls for a continuation of the nuclear modernisation programme ordered by Mr Obama across the “triad” of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched weapons and bombs delivered by plane.
Beyond Russia, the review calls North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un a “clear and grave threat” to the US and its allies, repeating the Trump administration line that a North Korean nuclear attack against the US or its allies will result in “the end of that regime”.
It also casts China as a potential nuclear adversary, saying the US arsenal is tailored to “prevent Beijing from mistakenly concluding” that it could gain advantage by using its nuclear weapons in Asia.
Arms control groups have responded with alarm to the review, claiming that it will blur the lines between nuclear and conventional warfare.
“President Trump is embarking on a reckless path, one that will reduce US security,” said Lisbeth Gronlund, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report
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