North Korea is accelerating its nuclear and missile development, while Russia and China are strengthening their nuclear capabilities. Given the deteriorating security environment, it is inevitable for the United States to start shoring up the power of its nuclear deterrent.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has released a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
The document will serve as a comprehensive guideline for US nuclear strategy over the next five to 10 years.
To defend the vital interests of the US and its allies, the NPR displays a policy of considering the use of a nuclear weapon even in “extreme circumstances” in which a serious non-nuclear attack is launched. Bearing in mind even cyberattacks designed to destroy electricity, water supply and other infrastructure as well as military facilities, the document is aimed at facilitating a posture in which the US can utilise its nuclear capability in dealing with various situations, thereby increasing its deterrent power.
Another feature of the latest NPR is that diversification of the nuclear capability has been set out. Some nuclear warheads in submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be replaced with small-scale nuclear weapons with greatly reduced explosive power.
Distinct from a strategic nuclear weapon that can deal a devastating blow to cities, a low-power one is to be used in a localised attack. Efforts would also be made to start a development programme aimed at redeploying nuclear cruise missiles for warships and submarines.
Doing so has the advantage of being able to flexibly deploy such weapons in each region. This can be expected to improve the credibility of the nuclear umbrella the United States provides for its allies.
Laid down eight years ago, the previous NPR focused on the importance of reducing the role of nuclear weapons, reflecting the ideals of then President Barack Obama, who championed “a world without nuclear weapons”.
The former Obama administration also considered declaring a policy of not using a first nuclear strike. That idea was abandoned after Japan and South Korea conveyed their concerns about a decline in the US deterrent against North Korea. The idea of realising nuclear disarmament under the initiative of the US and Russia fell through due to growing antagonism between the two nations that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The Trump administration says the US now faces “a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before”.
Russia has an advantage over the US regarding small nuclear weapons.
The actual state of China’s nuclear capability is basically uncertain. Given this, both nations’ opposition to the NPR seems to be unreasonable.
Needless to say, the role of nuclear weapons is to deter threats. Concerns persist about the possibility that an attack using a small nuclear weapon could develop into all-out nuclear war, and a situation in which the bar for using a nuclear weapon could be easily lowered.
It is essential to promote realistic nuclear disarmament through efforts to ease tensions among the United States, Russia and others, and through an improvement in the security environment.
Priority should be given to hindering North Korea’s nuclear development and reducing Russian and Chinese threats.