In his first year in office, President Barack Obama gave a landmark address in Prague in which he famously affirmed “clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The commitment to total nuclear disarmament was a major departure from the George W. Bush administration — the first time, in fact, that the United States had declared a nuclear-free world a major policy goal.
Now, eight years later, it’s the Trump administration’s turn to lay out its nuclear weapons policy. And according to a pre-decisional draft of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) obtained by HuffPost, Trump’s Department of Defense has gone a decidedly different route: new nukes, for no good reason.
The final version of the NPR is scheduled to be released in February. You can read the draft in full at the bottom of this article. A Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment on the draft, saying that the agency “will not discuss pre-decisional drafts of the document.”
In October, NBC reported that President Trump had told a gathering of high-ranking national security leaders that “he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.” While the report doesn’t nearly go that far, it does call for the development of new, so-called low-yield nuclear weapons — warheads with a lower explosive force.
The logic of those pushing for the development of smaller nukes is that our current nuclear weapons are too big and too deadly to ever use; we are effectively self-deterred, and the world knows it. To make sure other countries believe that we’d actually use nuclear force, the thinking goes, we need more low-yield nukes.
But official language around nuclear weapons is slippery and euphemistic. “Low yield” suggests a softer sort of weaponry, diet nukes, until you realize that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were technically “low-yield” weapons.
Trump’s NPR draft euphemizes the euphemism, referring to low-yield weapons as “supplements” that will “enhance deterrence.” The document claims that Russia is threatening to use these smaller nuclear weapons; the U.S. needs to match and deter the Russians in kind.
What goes unmentioned is that we already have over 1,000 nuclear warheads in our arsenal with low-yield options, to say nothing of the fact that the more nuclear weapons you introduce into the world, the more likely it is that they’ll one day be used.
“Making the case that we need more low-yield options is making the case that this president needs more nuclear capabilities at his disposal,” said Alexandra Bell, a former senior adviser at the State Department and current senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, “regardless of the fact that we have 4,000 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile, which is more than enough to destroy the world many times over. So I don’t think it makes a convincing case that we somehow lack capabilities. And, in fact, I don’t think you can make the case that this president needs any more capabilities.”
The draft itself doesn’t do all that much to convince anyone of the necessity of these low-yield weapons. One tactic it uses right up front is fear. Look no further than Page 6:
This is a slightly darker picture than reality would support, according to Laura Holgate, a special assistant to Obama for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction and a former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. “The notion that there are uncertainties is actually not new,” Holgate told HuffPost. “That’s always going to be true about the international environment. And there were references to uncertainties in the 2010 report, as well. But this dark perspective and this uncertain view underpin the decisions to walk back some of the decisions or postures presented in the 2010 report.”