Pentagon updates nuclear posture review seeking enhanced deterrent

Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow Russia
Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow Russia
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03 February, 2018

The latest thinking was revealed in a Pentagon policy statement known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). But the Pentagon concluded that China and Russia had not followed suit, and that "the capability of Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals is actually getting better against ours", in the words of Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In an apparent reference to the threat of catastrophic cyberattack, he said the US aims to strengthen deterrence of major attacks against the USA and its allies, including those that "may not come in the form of nuclear weapons".

He said it was also long-standing USA policy to "maintain some ambiguity" on when the US would use nuclear weapons. To achieve that, the NPR declares that "the United States will enhance the flexibility and range of its tailored deterrence options..."

"Most of these warheads are of the type that can destroy entire cities, but the USA also deploys bombers in Europe that are capable of dropping bombs with lower explosive yields", Fleming said, warning that any US nuclear buildup may lead to "a renewed arms race and a more risky world".

First, it would modify "a small number" of existing long-range ballistic missiles carried by Trident strategic submarines to fit them with smaller-yield nuclear warheads. This new capability, the NPR claims, is necessary to "help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable "gap" in US regional deterrence capabilities".

Right now, the United States has a conventional military advantage over Russia, and that has caused the Russian government to consider using tactical nuclear weapons "because they may have no other alternative in a conventional conflict", Saunders said.

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Pentagon officials said Friday that the United States is developing a ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile to counter a similar Russian weapon.

Being more specific does not mean the threshold for nuclear usage is lowered.

US officials insisted that these changes will make its deterrents more credible and raise the nuclear threshold. The US Navy used to have a nuclear SLCM (TLAM/N) until 2011, when it was retired because it was redundant and no longer needed. "We want to see a world that is free of nuclear weapons, but our nuclear policy needs to be rooted in the reality of the world we live in, where aggressive regimes like North Korea threaten us and our allies with their pursuit of illegal nuclear and ballistic weapons".

"This strategy gives him a massive rebuild of the current Cold War arsenal, complete with new missions and new weapons, to include responding to a cyberattack with a nuclear bomb", Cirincione said. Moreover, STRATCOM has already strengthened strategic bombers support of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in response to Russia's more provocative and aggressive behavior; the bombers now carry the air-launched cruise missile and will received the new LRSO that will have essentially the same capabilities as the SLCM. These low-yield weapons address the capabilities gap perceived by our adversaries. By evaluating the current threats to the United States and allies on a case-by-case basis, USA strategy communicates to ill-intentioned actors like North Korea or China that we are prepared to face them and ultimately makes the possibility of engagement less likely. These additional costs would need to be weighed against the benefits that the NPR authors claim a new SLCM will provide.

But officials in the Trump administration and the U.S. military argue that Obama's approach proved overly idealistic, particularly as Russian Federation reemerged as a foe, and failed to persuade USA nuclear adversaries to follow suit. The GBSD program will also modernize the 450 ICBM launch facilities that will support the fielding of 400 ICBMs.


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