US military calls for a reorientation of the nuclear arsenal. Smaller atomic bombs should enable a credible deterrent. Critics fear a new arms race.
Under US President Donald Trump, the US government is driving the development of new, lower-explosive nuclear weapons. With the introduction of so-called tactical nuclear warheads, the military wants to respond to the expansion of Russia’s nuclear capabilities. The reorientation of the nuclear arsenal should provide credible deterrence, according to an official Pentagon report on the United States’ new nuclear strategy.
“Our strategy is to ensure that Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, no matter how limited, is unacceptable,” senior government officials said in their report released by the US Department of Defense earlier this weekend.
The new bombs will not expand the US nuclear arsenal – they will replace existing explosive devices. However, President Donald Trump’s administration is breaking through the new doctrine with its predecessor Barack Obama, who had declared the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide.
“The strategy develops capabilities with the goal of making the use of nuclear weapons less likely,” said Trump. At the same time, the deterrence against attacks against the US and its “allies and partners” is being increased.
Logic of horror
The Pentagon argues in the 75-page paper that the strategic nuclear weapons with their gigantic destructive potential were not enough to deter deterrents. Russia may therefore insist that the US would never use these weapons – as the risk is too high because of a feared nuclear counter-attack of a similar dimension and the threat of destruction of large parts of humanity.
The report on US nuclear strategy is a sweeping blow to the world situation from the point of view of the US armed forces. The authors of the dossier address major and regional powers as well as the “unpredictable” threat posed by North Korea. To respond more flexibly, Pentagon strategists say they want to rebuild a “small number” of existing nuclear warheads from submarine-based long-range missiles in order to have a lower-explosive variant. In the long term, a nuclear-weapon-ready cruise missile will be developed, which can also be launched from submarines.
The Pentagon leaves open in the paper, how big the explosive power of the new warhead types should be. Even “small nuclear weapons” – so-called mini Nukes – still have a huge potential for destruction. In addition to the explosive effect, which has an impact on the ground mainly due to the heat generated by nuclear fires and the enormous pressure wave, long-term radiation risks threaten beyond the explosion site. The so-called fall-out of a nuclear weapon explosion can, driven by wind and weather, contaminate entire tracts of land.