Posted by Joseph Rodgers
On Saturday, Hawaiians received a notification of incoming ballistic missiles on their cell phones. It took 38 minutes for the false alarm to be rescinded. Thousands of Americans called their loved ones for what they thought to be the last time. In those 38 minutes, citizens of Hawaii experienced first hand the radical contingency of life in the nuclear era.
Three days before the Hawaii incident, the Huffington Post leaked a draft of the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, a Pentagon document that dictates the overall strategy for United States nuclear forces.
The leaked document, which is rumored to be the final draft, demonstrates an aggressive shift from the Obama posture review by mandating “more usable” low-yield nuclear weapons, doubling down on building new bomb plants, and lowering the threshold to resume nuclear weapons testing.
Prior to this Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama Administration had authorized a 1.2 trillion dollar nuclear weapons project to modernize every aspect of the United States’ nuclear arsenal, including four nuclear warheads. Tri-Valley CAREs has long opposed this plan.
The Trump Nuclear Posture Review takes that bad plan and makes it much worse – and incalculably more dangerous. This posture review approves two additional, low yield nuclear weapons capabilities – a modified sea launched ballistic missile warhead and a new sea launched cruise missile. The warheads for these weapons would be developed at the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
In order to build these more usable nuclear weapons, the Trump Nuclear Posture Review pursues initiatives to construct new bomb plants. These plants include the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 in Tennessee and a plutonium pit production factory at a site the review declines to name. It’s worth noting that the Los Alamos National Laboratory has long wanted to host new plutonium bomb core capabilities and that the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has recently expressed interest in that work.
Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review also accelerates training for a new generation of nuclear weapons designers by expanding “opportunities for young scientists and engineers to advance warhead design, development, and production skills.”
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the leaked Nuclear Posture Review is an ambiguously worded passage about nuclear weapons testing.
Trump’s posture review claims that the “United States must remain ready to resume nuclear testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges.” This language lowers the bar to re-starting nuclear yield tests in Nevada, which ended in 1992. Here’s how. Consider that the Trump posture review authorizes development of new types of nuclear weapons with novel capabilities, meaning that weapons scientists may make substantial modifications to existing designs.
Development of new weapons, in itself, can become a “technological challenge” as the designers seek to certify wholly new features of warhead performance without being able to conduct a nuclear test. In fact, the inability to conduct a nuclear yield test in Nevada has served as a barrier to the introduction into the stockpile of completely novel, untested features.
In sum, under the terms of the Trump Nuclear Posture Review, weapons designers may self-create technological challenges that could then be used to justify a return to nuclear weapons testing. As Tri-Valley CAREs has noted on numerous occasions, the resumption of U.S. nuclear yield testing would be disastrous for global stability as Russia, China, India, Pakistan and others would quickly follow suit.
The official Trump Administration Nuclear Posture Review will likely be released publicly in the next few weeks. Tri-Valley CAREs will compare the official release with the leaked draft. We will continue to analyze the impact of Trump’s nuclear posture on our country’s policy and budget – and we will keep you informed!
Tri-Valley CAREs’ staff will also travel to Washington, DC at the end of January to attend an annual national security conference. While there, we will meet with key decision makers in the Administration and Congress to condemn Trump policies that pour gasoline on the fire of a new nuclear arms race and make nuclear war more likely.
Click here to read the leaked draft Nuclear Posture Review.Φ