The leaked document shows that the Pentagon wants to expand the US nuclear arsenal with low-yield weapons, but these weapons are still incredibly dangerous.
President Donald Trump's Defense Department wants to expand American nuclear capabilities by adding "low-yield" weapons of the kind that decimated Nagasaki and Hiroshima to the US arsenal, according to a draft Pentagon policy document obtained by HuffPost.
The document, called the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, lays out what appears to be a new approach to nuclear deterrence that relies on acquiring weapons with comparatively "low"-level destructive capabilities meant to convince nations like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea that the US has weapons in its arsenal that it would hypothetically be willing to use.
But as HuffPost notes, these weapons "supplements" are by no means as harmless as they sound — their destructive power is roughly akin to the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.
The logic in the document, which will not be finalized until February, is that by introducing more of these less-powerful weapons, which it calls "supplements," the US would actually enhance nuclear deterrence. Other nuclear powers, which also have low-yield bombs, would realize that the US has weapons with capabilities weak enough to actually deploy in conflicts, and would then avoid deploying their own arsenals as well.
"These supplements will enhance deterrence by denying potential adversaries any mistaken confidence that limited nuclear employment can provide a useful advantage over the United States and its allies," the document reads.
The review claims that Russia is threatening to use its low-yield weapons, and that the US must be willing to respond.
"Russia's belief that limited nuclear first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow's perception that its greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear weapons provide a coercive advantage and at lower levels of conflict," the Review states. "Correcting this mistaken Russian perception is a strategic imperative."
But according to Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, the belief that more weapons is the answer to perceived challenges misses the point.
"Advocates of additional nuclear capabilities seem too fixated on weapon types and don't seem to understand or appreciate the flexibility of the current capabilities," he write. "Yes there are serious challenges in Russia and North Korea, but those challenges can be addressed with the considerable capabilities in the current nuclear arsenal."
The policy stance laid out in the document stands in stark contrast to the general policy of nuclear disarmament pursued by both former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. The document seems to contradict itself on nuclear non-proliferation.
"The United States remains committed to its efforts in support of the ultimate global elimination of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons..." the review reads. "Nevertheless, global threat conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent 2010 NPR, including increasingly explicit nuclear threats from potential adversaries. The United States now faces a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before, with considerable dynamism in potential adversaries’ development and deployment programs from nuclear weapons and delivery systems."
The document also mentions the Trump administration's continued commitment to the NATO alliance.
"A strong, cohesive nuclear Alliance is the most effective means of deterring aggression and promoting peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region," the document notes.