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Trump’s draft plan for nuclear weapons is a terrifying document

trump nuclear weapons getty shutterstock business insider illustration
it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and
outlast them all.”

Getty Images; US
Navy; illustration by Business Insider

  • HuffPost has published a leaked, January 2018 draft of
    the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, due out in
  • While the document echoes the Obama administration’s
    nuclear modernization plan, it contains major differences and
    is laced with “dark perspective.”
  • One reversal is a push for additional “flexible” and
    “low-yield” nuclear weapons in the US arsenal.
  • This shift could make nuclear weapons easier to use in
    combat, spur

    nuclear proliferation, lead to
    grave miscalculations, and increase the risk of atomic

A little more than a year ago, Donald Trump made two of the most

statements of his political career. Now they appear
poised to become US policy, in light of a government document
leaked to HuffPost.

The first statement occurred on December 22, 2016, when Trump
tweeted that the US “must
greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such
time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Trump’s aides claimed he wasn’t starting a
nuclear arms race. But he betrayed their spin the following day.

“Let it be an arms race,” Trump reportedly told MSNBC “Morning Joe” host
Mika Brzezinski over the phone. “We will outmatch them at every
pass and outlast them all.”

Both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations have
worked for decades to reduce
US and global nuclear weapons stockpiles
, so Trump’s views
represented a reversal of longstanding efforts at
denuclearization. Because he was president-elect at the time,
doubts existed as to whether he — once sworn in and surrounded by
presumably experienced and competent cabinet members — would act
on them.

But what little room for doubt is left has shrunk considerably.

us nuclear posture review january 2018 draft 1
first page of a January 2018 Nuclear Posture Report

via HuffPost/DocumentCloud

On Thursday, HuffPost senior reporter Ashley Feinberg published
what appears to be a January 2018 draft of the
Nuclear Posture Review.

An NPR, as it’s also called, is a
roadmap for US nuclear strategy published every four years. It is
assembled by the Secretary of Defense, who is currently Jim
Mattis, and other administration officials based on the
president’s input.

The 64-page document is not a call
for stockpiling massive numbers of atomic bombs. However, it
outlines the Trump administration’s aims to not only expand
nuclear weapons capabilities, but also make the devices eminently
easier for military forces to use.

When asked about the document’s authenticity, Feinberg told
Business Insider via tweet that it “comports
with what industry people/lobbyists/the people quoted in my post
have heard and seen.”

A final version of the NPR is slated for publication in February,
according to HuffPost, and — given a year of work put into the
report — is unlikely to change much.

And that should frighten us all.

Why Trump thinks the US needs more nukes

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017.  KCNA via REUTERS
Korean leader Kim Jong Un stands before what may be part of a
miniaturized thermonuclear warhead.


Trump is worried about the nuclear weapons modernization efforts
of Russia — which in 2014
a key arms reduction treaty — as well as North

intercontinental ballistic missile


His tough-guy attitude echoes Cold War-era logic: outmatch your
adversaries, or risk a nation-destroying preemptive strike.

For example, during a gathering of national security officials in
July 2017, NBC News wrote that Trump said
he wanted the US to boost its active stockpile to 1960s levels (a
tenfold increase). This was reportedly after Trump was shown a
chart of the US nuclear arsenal since 1945, and how its size
changed over time.

us nuclear stockpile changes chart graph 2016 obama fas
chart showing the changes in the size of the US nuclear arsenal
by presidential administration over 70 years.

of American Scientists

But this not only ignores disquieting facts about
nuclear weapons and risks their proliferation in foreign
countries, but also threatens to increase the chance of a nuclear

and catastrophes.

The draft 2018 NPR is far from a rubber stamp of Trump’s desires.
Its goals resemble former President Barack Obama’s
30-year, $1.2-trillion
plan to modernize the US nuclear
arsenal along with the
sorely outdated
command-and-control systems required to use
the weapons. The text also acknowledges international agreements
not to create more weapons.

But the report contains notable differences — such as reversing
Obama’s move to limit “low-yield” nukes — and is lined with
contradictions and “dark perspective,” arms control experts told

The biggest problem is its logic behind giving the US arsenal
more nuclear weapons which pack smaller
and are easier to use.

The slippery slope of ‘flexible,’ ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons

Tactical Nuclear WeaponsUS
Department Of Energy

The US and Russia have committed to taking thousands of warheads
offline since 2010 (as part of the New START treaty).
However, technological proliferation can occur when the total
number of nuclear weapons decreases.

The new NPR cites the advances in Russia’s battlefield-ready
nuclear arms, then effectively reverses the Obama-era position of
not making similar “low-yield” and “flexible” nuclear weapons to
match them.

“To be clear, this is not intended to, nor does it enable,
‘nuclear war-fighting.’ Expanding flexible U.S. nuclear options
now, to include low-yield options, is important for the
preservation of ·credible deterrence against regional
aggression,” the NPR states. “It will raise the nuclear threshold
and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible
advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear
employment less likely.”

But “low-yield” is a misnomer: This category of weapons can rival
the atomic bombs the US dropped on Japan in 1945, each of which
led to about 100,000 casualties.

Modern low-yield weapons are also easier to deploy and use than
larger, more powerful weapons, leading to a higher likelihood
that they will be used in what may have previously been
traditional combat. They’re also more accurate.

For example, the US military’s
B61-12 gravity bomb
— available to fighter jets in 2021 —
will recycle
four older-style
bombs that fell to target with a precision
of about 300-550 feet. But weapons
experts say
the gravity bomb is effectively a new weapon with
new capabilities, since the
rebuilt bombs
will have new pop-out fins and thrusters to
guide them to a target with a precision of under 100 feet.

The military can also “tune” the B61-12’s blast yields from
several times higher to several times lower than the first atomic
bombs. Submarine cruise missiles with “low-yield” warheads are
also in the works, the NPR states.

Contrary to what the NPR claims, such weapons — in addition to
lowering the threshold for use
and making the taboo against use of any nuclear weapons
likely to fall apart
— are grounds for catastrophic

People and machines are flawed

Right now, hundreds of US nuclear weapons are already primed to
use at a moment’s notice. This
dangerous Cold War-era policy
means such weapons can be
launched within a few minutes of detecting an adversary’s
preemptive nuclear strike — or a
false signal of one

Many strategic weapons, like Minuteman
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) deployed
across middle America, can’t be disabled once they leave a silo.

Yet no human creation is perfect. You can build the world’s
smartest, most seemingly foolproof machine, and it will still
contain flaws. In the case of nuclear weapons systems, such flaws
run the risk of accidental launch, detonation, and incredible
loss of life.

Tallying up nuclear weapons accidents is exceedingly difficult,
especially due to their classified nature, but information that
has been released is alarming.

“[M]any dozens of incidents involving nuclear warheads are known
to have occurred in the United States — and likely many more that
have not been made public,” according to
a 2015 fact sheet
by the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Thirty-two known incidents were “broken
,” when a nuclear weapon was accidentally launched,
fired, detonated, stolen, or lost. Eleven are weapons the US
military never recovered, including one of two powerful
thermonuclear bombs it accidentally dropped and nearly detonated
over North Carolina.

titan ii 2 missile usaf.JPG
test launch of a Titan II intercontinental ballistic


Writer Eric Schlosser has chronicled some of these all-too-common
misadventures in “Command
and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the
Illusion of Safety
“. The 2014 book closely follows the story
of a Titan II ICBM that exploded in its silo,
nearly setting off a powerful warhead
that could have laid
waste to Arkansas and nearby states. (The cause? A maintenance
worker who accidentally dropped a tool.)

In light of Trump’s statements as president-elect in December
2016, Schlosser revisited some of his book’s material in a recent
piece for
The New Yorker
, in which he described alarming, ongoing
technical problems with “aging and obsolete” nuclear weapons and
their command-and-control systems.

Schlosser also highlighted the risks of being human. Using
Minuteman III system as one example, he wrote for The New Yorker:

“[In 2014], almost a hundred Minuteman launch officers were
disciplined for cheating on their proficiency exams. In 2015,
three launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana,
were dismissed for using illegal drugs, including ecstasy,
cocaine, and amphetamines. That same year, a launch officer at
Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, was sentenced to
twenty-five years in prison for heading a violent street gang,
distributing drugs, sexually assaulting a girl under the age of
sixteen, and using psilocybin, a powerful hallucinogen. As the
job title implies, launch officers are entrusted with the keys
for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

National leaders who can order nuclear strikes are also fallible

Take Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who

publicly rattled his nation’s nuclear sabers
in late December
after reading (and apparently believing) a fake news article
about Israel threatening his country with nuclear weapons.

Making more lower-yield nukes in any country — whether Pakistan
or the US — would also heighten the risk of a smaller weapon

falling into the hands of terrorists
attacking a city

What is the solution?

nasa apollo 11 earth africa 1969 AS11 36 5352HR
view of Africa taken by Apollo 11 astronauts on July 20,


The more nuclear weapons that exist — and the easier they are to
use — the more likely they are to intentionally or accidentally
explode and lead to catastrophe, perhaps a global one.

As Alexandra Bell, a former
senior adviser at the State Department and current senior policy
director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation,

told HuffPost
: “[W]e have 4,000 nuclear weapons in our active
stockpile, which is more than enough to destroy the world many
times over … I don’t think you can make the case that this
president needs any more capabilities.”

The solution is not easy but straightforward: Do not expand any
nuclear arsenals or their capabilities. Instead, continue to
reduce weapons stockpiles, ideally until they are all gone, while
making the ones that remain safer.

Plenty of non-nuclear alternatives exist to keep adversarial
countries in check until the world rids itself of nukes.

Take cyberwarfare. Given the cleverness and scope of Stuxnet,
a computer virus that took down Iran’s uranium-enriching
centrifuges, it’s not unreasonable to suggest covert and
preemptive attacks on nuclear weapons systems themselves are
possible or even ongoing.

Diplomacy, sanctions, embargoes, and treaties may not always be
popular, but they have helped prevent countries
like Iran
from obtaining nuclear weapons. They’ve also helped
reduce weapons stockpiles by more than a factor of 10.
Conventional warfare can also help strip a nation of its nuclear
weapons facilities.

Most importantly, however, as Schlosser and others argue, it’s
past time that we stop assuming nuclear weapons are safe and
irrelevant relics of the Cold War.

Instead, we all need to have frank discussions — in our homes, at
work, and with elected officials — about the reality of nuclear
weapons, including their numbers, risks, cost, and imminent
threat to the future of humanity. Every weapon we dismantle is
one step away from the worst kind of mishap imaginable.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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