Pentagon urges Trump to expand nuclear weapons, ready for “limited” atomic war.
The recommendation is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but it foreshadows a raging debate just over the horizon.
Fully one-third of the nuclear arsenal is already considered low-yield, defense analysts say, and almost all the newest warheads are being built with less destructive options. But experts on the Pentagon panel and elsewhere say the board’s goal is to further increase the number of smaller-scale nuclear weapons — and the ways they can be delivered — in order to deter adversaries, primarily Russia, from using nuclear weapons first.
Critics of such an expansion say that even these less explosive nuclear weapons, which pack only a fraction of the punch of the bombs America dropped on Japan in 1945, can still kill scores of thousands of people and lead to lasting environmental damage. They worry that expanding the inventory of lower-yield warheads — and the means for delivering them — could make atomic war more thinkable and could trigger a cycle of response from adversaries, possibly making nuclear conflict more likely. And, they say, such an expansion would cost a lot of money without necessarily increasing security.
The issue will gain greater prominence in the next several years as an up-to-$1 trillion update of the U.S. nuclear arsenal becomes the biggest Pentagon budget issue. That update, as now planned, mostly involves building new versions of the same submarines, bombers, missiles, bombs and warheads. Support for the modernization effort is bipartisan.
But any effort to create new weapons, or even to modify existing ones, in order to expand the arsenal of potentially usable nuclear weapons is likely to trigger opposition.
“There’s one role — and only one role — for nuclear weapons, and that’s deterrence. We cannot, must not, will not ever countenance their actual use,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “There’s no such thing as limited nuclear war, and for the Pentagon’s advisory board to even suggest such a thing is deeply troubling.”
“I have no doubt the proposal to research low-yield nuclear weapons is just the first step to actually building them,” she added. “I’ve fought against such reckless efforts in the past and will do so again, with every tool at my disposal.”
Conservatives on the congressional defense committees generally support exploring new nuclear options………
Fears of expanded arms race
Those who oppose development or production of more small-scale nuclear weapons argue that U.S. conventional capabilities are unmatched. They also say there’s no reason to believe Russia, for all its bluster, would go nuclear in a conflict, because it would never assume the United States wouldn’t respond either with overwhelming conventional force or nuclear weapons.
Moreover, they say, the United States has or will have plenty of lower-yield nuclear bombs to drop if necessary. And, they add, there are few scenarios in which missiles would be needed to deliver such warheads, because aircraft will suffice, particularly if they can launch atomic-tipped cruise missiles from long distances.
There are potentially serious disadvantages to expanding the lower-yield arsenal, the critics also contend.
First, there’s the cost — expected to be in the billions………http://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/pentagon-panel-urges-trump-team-expand-nuclear-options
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