Trump adminstration to unveil new nuclear weapons policy Friday
While calling for the modernization and rebuilding of the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal, President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, said "perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet."
On Friday, the Trump administration is expected to unveil its new nuclear weapons policy, formally known as the Nuclear Posture Review, which is expected to call for new nuclear weapons in response to increasing military capabilities by Russia and China. An unclassified draft of the review was published by the Huffington Post earlier this month, but the Pentagon called it pre-decisional.
The Pentagon reportedly is planning to develop a nuclear-tipped cruise missile that could be launched from the Navy's guided-missile and attack submarines, a capability the U.S. did away with in 2010, and a "low-yield" warhead for the Trident intercontinental ballistic missile that arms the Navy's ballistic-missile submarines.
Supporters of the plan say low-yield nuclear weapons — weapons with a lower explosive force — are needed to combat Russia's and China's re-emphasis on nuclear weapons. But there's concern that because they are low-yield, officials will be more inclined to use them.
"Small nuclear weapons are a solution in search of a problem," said Thomas Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. "The trend since the end of the Cold War, and really since the last term of the Reagan administration, has been fewer and fewer nuclear weapons and fewer and fewer scenarios in which they would be used. This is really looking for reasons to bring back small nuclear weapons."
The debate over more flexible nuclear options is hardly new, said Kevin Generous, a security policy analyst, writer, consultant and instructor in the political science department at the University of Connecticut, offering as example responses by Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter to changes in Russia's policies.
"Every time we go through the search for options, we are responding to changes in doctrine of our adversaries that seek to exploit shortfalls in our deterrent capability," Generous said. ".... This is just another round."
Of the Trump administration's new nuclear plan, Generous said, "It's perfectly understandable to develop these kinds of weapons."
Southeastern Connecticut has a stake in the larger nuclear weapons debate. Electric Boat is gearing up to building a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic-missile submarines, known as the Columbia class. The new fleet is part of a larger $1 trillion effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear triad.
The Navy is planning 12 of these submarines. Some news reports have indicated that the Nuclear Posture Review will set 12 submarines as a minimum goal for the Columbia program.
"We're going to get some fairly strong foot stomping that this program is of the highest importance," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, predicted of the impending review.
Courtney, ranking member of the House Armed Service's Seapower Subcommittee, said there's strong support in Congress for a fleet of 12 Columbia submarines.
As for talk of changing nuclear capabilities for different warheads, Courtney said he finds the effort problematic in two ways: It adds cost, and there are a lot of experts who say these types of capabilities "create a much more uncertain environment in terms of countries interpreting a nuclear launch vs. non-nuclear launch."
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