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Nuclear poker: Trump’s dangerous game

The crater-scarred landscape of the Nevada Test Site. Most subsidences leave saucer-shaped craters are varying in diameter. 1995. This is the north end of Yucca Flat. Most tests have been conducted in this valley. From 1951 until 1958 119 atmospheric tests were conducted and from 1962 until 1992 more than 1,000 underground tests. Nye County, Nevada, USA. (PHoto by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Is Playing a Dangerous Game of Nuclear Poker , TIME, By W.J. HENNIGAN , 2 Feb 18    At a vast tract of uninhabited desert in southern Nevada, hundreds of moonlike craters dimple the wasteland, remnants of Cold War nuclear explosions that melted the bedrock and fused the sand to ensure that America could take part in the unthinkable: global thermonuclear war. The crowds of scientists and generals are long gone–the U.S. hasn’t tested a nuke since 1992, when then President George H.W. Bush declared a self-imposed testing moratorium. But the Nevada National Security test site is not completely abandoned. A skeleton crew of custodians oversees the long dormant facility, less than 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, standing by to turn the lights back on if the day ever comes.

It may come sooner than many thought.

Since 1993, the Department of Energy has had to be ready to conduct a nuclear test within two to three years if ordered by the President. Late last year, the Trump Administration ordered the department to be ready, for the first time, to conduct a short-notice nuclear test in as little as six months.

That is not enough time to install the warhead in shafts as deep as 4,000 ft. and affix all the proper technical instrumentation and diagnostics equipment. But the purpose of such a detonation, which the Administration labels “a simple test, with waivers and simplified processes,” would not be to ensure that the nation’s most powerful weapons were in operational order, or to check whether a new type of warhead worked, a TIME review of nuclear-policy documents has found. Rather, a National Nuclear Security Administration official tells TIME, such a test would be “conducted for political purposes.”

The point, this and other sources say, would be to show Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iran’s Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and other adversaries what they are up against.

President Trump has not ordered such a test, but even the consideration of a show of force–by the nation that announced the atomic age by dropping nuclear weapons on Japanese cities in August 1945–marks a provocative shift from the sober, almost mournful restraint that has characterized the U.S. posture toward the weapons for decades. To prevent nuclear war and the spread of weapons to non-nuclear states, the strategy of Republican and Democratic Commanders in Chief alike has been to reduce nuclear arsenals and forge new arms-control agreements.

The Trump Administration, by contrast, is convinced that the best way to limit the spreading nuclear danger is to expand and advertise its ability to annihilate its enemies.  In addition to putting the Nevada testing ground on notice, he has signed off on a $1.2 trillion plan to overhaul the entire nuclear-weapons complex. Trump has authorized a new nuclear warhead, the first in 34 years. He is funding research and development on a mobile medium-range missile. The new weapon, if tested or deployed, would be prohibited by a 30-year-old Cold War nuclear-forces agreement with Russia (which has already violated the agreement). And for the first time, the U.S. is expanding the scenarios under which the President would consider going nuclear to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” including major cyberattacks………….

Rather than dissuading such efforts, arms-control experts from both political parties say, Trump’s moves will accelerate them. A new nuclear-arms race would not be limited to two superpowers seeking strategic balance in a Cold War but would include many nations, including foes in regions where hot wars are a regular occurrence. ………

Trump’s new plan also expands the President’s “first use” of nuclear weapons to circumstances that include “non-nuclear strategic attacks” against the U.S. or its allies. That could mean cyberattacks on nuclear command and control systems or civilian infrastructure, like the electricity grid or air-traffic-control system, arms-control experts have concluded. Previous Administrations limited the threat of a nuclear response to mass-casualty events, like chemical- and biological-weapon attacks. Stephen Schwartz, a nuclear weapons policy expert, said the key concern is the expansion of the nuclear umbrella to “include these new and not extreme possibilities, thus dramatically lowering the threshold for nuclear use.”

The Trump plan also takes a new, skeptical approach to nuclear arms-control agreements.

………. If Trump undoes the nuclear deal with Iran, analysts fear that Tehran will sprint for a weapon. Its regional rival Saudi Arabia could then develop its own atomic weapon, or import one from close ally Pakistan, which has its own fast-growing nuclear arsenal to counter arch-rival India’s. (Pakistan is building up its stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.) China now has a nuclear-powered submarine, known as the Jin-class, that gives its military the ability to launch ICBMs from the sea……….. http://time.com/5128394/donald-trump-nuclear-poker/

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February 2, 2018 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

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