According to the new review, the United States will modify a small number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads to provide a low-yield option, and in the longer term pursue a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile as part of efforts to boost US deterrence capabilities against "potential adversaries" such as Russia, China and North Korea. What's equally troubling is that the new NPR treats regular, high-level engagement and diplomacy as an afterthought rather than an integral part of USA nuclear-security strategy.
That means effectively deterring Russian Federation from using its small-scale nuclear arsenal for tactical military operations.
Since the development of nuclear weapons, the US has never completely ruled out a first strike, but the NPR appeared to expand the circumstances in which a "first use" would be contemplated. The United States is concerned about Moscow's growing tactical nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.
The U.S. government's embrace of low-yield nuclear weapons echoes the "flexible response" nuclear attack policy in the 1970s, said Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington. It also criticized the practice of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation "joint nuclear missions" that allow non-nuclear weapon member states of the Alliance to take part in planning and training in the use of nuclear weapons.
For decades, the United States has been moving to reduce the relevance of forward-deployed nuclear weapons in Europe, and for good reason: USA nuclear weapons in Europe have virtually no military utility, and their storage at bases in multiple countries presents a serious security risk. The US has a few hundred active low-yield weapons deployed in Europe.
By clarifying potential scenarios when the president might authorize a nuclear attack, officials said, the US was seeking to deter adversaries from conducting large-scale cyber warfare and other non-nuclear but potentially devastating attacks on the USA and its allies, a controversial idea that critics said could make nuclear war more likely. Root also said there was no "automaticity" to what the US would do in undefined "extreme circumstances".
North Korea was also mentioned in the review, with the U.S. describing it as a "clear and grave threat".
"There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive", the NPR said.
The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki separately issued statements protesting the US policy shift.
In making the case for modernizing the triad, the NPR stated that the USA for decades led efforts at eat nuclear arms reduction worldwide and the efforts accelerated with the fall of the Soviet Union. For example, when few if any nuclear weapons can reach capitals without strategic warning, any indications of an attack or detonation might not require rapid action; but a situation in which both Russian Federation and America/NATO have fast-flying, stealthy nuclear delivery systems and relations are poor, crisis instability is high.
But, under the Obama administration, the Pentagon had already planned to modernize the nation's nuclear weaponry, which consists of missiles fired from land and sea and bombs from warplanes.
If some these threats that we're facing in cyber and space are so great, why not invest some of the $1.7 trillion we are going to spend on the nuclear arsenal and actually improve our cyber-capabilities? "What do they need nuclear depth charges for?" one United States official asked. Nuclear critics dispute this and say it could increase the likelihood of expanding the use of nuclear weapons.
A risky disconnect is emerging between the horrific impacts of even the limited use of nuclear weapons and leaders and policymakers who seem intent on threatening nuclear use in an ever-expanding range of scenarios.
"We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be", the NPR said, "given the range of potential adversaries, their capabilities and strategic objectives".
The review suggests a hawkish approach to cooperation with Russian Federation over nuclear proliferation.
"What we're trying to do is ensure that our diplomats and our negotiators are in a position to be listened to when we say we want to go forward on nonproliferation and arms control", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters ahead of the review's release Friday.
According to the 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review, published on Friday, the country will maintain and enhance the capability to deploy nuclear bombers and dual-capable aircraft around the world, and it is committed to working with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to ensure the readiness and operational effectiveness of such aircraft based in Europe.
USA officials insisted that these changes will make its deterrents more credible and raise the nuclear threshold. It asserts that any North Korean nuclear attack against the USA or its allies will result in "the end of that regime".
Both systems would use existing nuclear warheads and do not require a departure from the current nuclear stockpile sustainment approach.