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Donald Trump announces new policy to modernise nuclear arsenal

US President Donald Trump said the new policy to modernise the country’s nuclear arsenal was tailored and flexible to address the wide array of threats in the 21st century.

world Updated: Feb 03, 2018 23:42 IST
Yashwant Raj
US President Donald Trump said the new policy reaffirms the US’ commitment to arms control and nuclear non-proliferation.
US President Donald Trump said the new policy reaffirms the US’ commitment to arms control and nuclear non-proliferation.(AFP)

The Trump administration on Friday unveiled a new nuclear arms policy that sets out to modernise the country’s arsenal and develop new types of nuclear warheads, arguing that potential adversaries, chiefly Russia, China and North Korea, have been rapidly improving their capabilities.

They will be a low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles and a nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile.

Unveiling the Nuclear Policy Review (NPR), US officials insisted its goal remains deterrence as it has been for decades, but critics have said it expands reliance on nuclear weapons, marking a shift away from the Obama administration’s policy to reduce reliance, and could start an arms race.

President Trump, who had ordered a review of the policy last January, said on Friday that while the United States had made “efforts to reduce the roles and numbers of nuclear weapons, other nuclear nations grew their stockpiles, increased the prominence of nuclear weapons in their security strategies”.

The new policy addresses those challenges now, he added.

“We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” defence secretary James Mattis wrote in a signed introduction to the policy. “This NPR reflects the current, pragmatic assessment of the threats we face and the uncertainties regarding the future security environment.”

The review identified Russia and China as posing the gravest threat as they “have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behaviour”. And North Korea’s “illicit pursuit” of nuclear weapons and Iran, despite the nuclear deal. And “violent non- state actors”.

To address the challenges, in the near-term, “the United States will modify a small number of existing SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missiles) warheads to provide a low-yield option.”

And in the longer term, it will pursue a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile to develop and deploy them in the near-term.

But the reintroduction of SLCM (submarine launched cruise missiles) could take longer, the review said.

The United States had stopped deploying SLCMs under President George W Bush and it was retired during President Obama’s administration.

Citing Russia’s growing reliance nuclear weapons as part of its “Escalating to De-escalate” strategy, John Rood, undersecretary of defence, told reporters, there was “a need to maintain a flexible approach so that our deterrent can be credible.”

“We have, as mentioned in the report, said that we would pursue some supplementary capabilities,” he said, explaining the rationale for low-yield weapons.

The “low-yield weapons”, also called “battlefield nuclear weapons”, are not that less powerful. The ones dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the first and last instances of the use of nuclear weapons yet, were low-yield bombs, but the devastation was incomparable.

Critics have found the new policy troubling. Adam Mount, an expert on US nuclear policy at the Federation American Scientists, wrote in Foreign Affairs, the most significant problem with “Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review is the slanted view it holds of the world and the obsolete theory of deterrence and war fighting that it promotes, which is so poorly suited to today’s threats.”

“Rather than working to reduce nuclear dangers, the nation’s nuclear policy now reflects the reasoning of US adversaries and readily follows them into a more dangerous world”.

And Lisbeth Gronlund, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Associated Press, “President Trump is embarking on a reckless path — one that will reduce US security both now and in the longer term.

She said the administration is blurring the line between nuclear and conventional warfare.