On February 3 the Washington Post observed that “the United States can deliver a strike anywhere in the world in 30 minutes with astounding accuracy” and questioned the need for “a new generation of low-yield nuclear weapons,” quoting the commander of the strategic force, General John Hyten, as saying “I’m very comfortable today with the flexibility of our response options.” But it appears that no matter the quantity and world-destroying capability of the US nuclear arsenal, there is always room for more — and more devastating — weapons of mass annihilation.
General James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, discussed Washington’s recently composed Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) with the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives on February 6. He was attempting to justify the vast expansion and upgrading of the US nuclear arsenal which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated will cost some 1.2 trillion dollars over the next 30 years and described in detail some of the projects that have been planned. The entire exercise does not fit well with the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in which it is agreed by almost every country in the world that the nuclear arms race should be halted and that all possible measures should be taken towards achievement of nuclear disarmament.
But Washington’s notions of global nuclear disarmament are curiously ambivalent, as there is total support for Israel’s highly developed nuclear weapons’ capabilities, yet concurrently there is obsessive criticism of North Korea’s programme to arm itself with nuclear missiles. Nobody can defend or approve of North Korea’s wild nuclear ambitions which are beggaring an already downtrodden and poverty-stricken population on the verge of starvation, but Pyongyang’s rationale is that its policy “is the best way to respond with powerful nuclear deterrent to the US imperialists who are violent toward the weak and subservient to the strong.”
The language is straight out of a 1950s propaganda textbook, but the North Koreans are perfectly serious about their perception of world affairs as seen through the Washington lens. The North Korean government’s perception of the Nuclear Posture Review may be less measured than those of several other nations, but there was no mistaking the disapproval
of China, Germany, Iran and Russia, all of which condemned the NPR in no uncertain terms. Germany’s then foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel (moved in the recent political reshuffle) reflected the stance of much of Europe when he said the NPR indicated that “the spiral of a new nuclear arms race is already underway,” but France and Britain, with their irrelevant but proudly brandished nuclear weapons capabilities, were non-committal, although the UK’s policy apparently remains that “we've made it very clear that you can't rule out the use of nuclear weapons as a first strike.”
As to the body of the Review, one analyst wrote that “the 2018 NPR fully supports the retention and modernization of the current triad of delivery systems; emphasizes the importance of a modernized and strengthened nuclear command, control, and communications system; and reiterates the need to invest in US nuclear weapons infrastructure, primarily in the national laboratories,” which sums up the overall intention to expand the entire systems of procurement and delivery. The BBC noted that the NPR “argues that developing smaller nuclear weapons would challenge that assumption [of its arsenal becoming obsolete]. Low-yield weapons with a strength of under 20 kilotons are less powerful but are still devastating.” It reported that proposals include the update of land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-delivered weapons, modification of some submarine-launched nuclear warheads to give a lower-yield or less powerful detonation, and reinstitution of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles.
Washington’s message is clear, in that the NPR is an extension of the US National Defense Strategy which advises vast military expansion to supposedly counter “growing threat from revisionist powers” such as China and Russia. The Cold War is back with a nuclear rush, and the US Military-Industrial complex has been given a major boost, with the Review making 62 references to North Korea, 47 to China, 39 to Iraq and — leaving no doubt where it wishes to strike first — mentioning Russia 127 times, which makes nonsense of the claim by the State Department that “we do not want to consider Russia an adversary… This not a Russia-centric NPR.”
Washington now rejects both “sole purpose” (nuclear weapons to be used to deter only nuclear attacks) and “no first use” (nuclear weapons only to be used if another state uses such weapons first) policies. The message to China and Russia is that if the US considers there is a non-nuclear threat to its interests, then there could be a nuclear strike. The example set to nuclear-armed nations such as India, Israel and Pakistan is unambiguous, in that the deterrence aspect of nuclear weapons has been superseded by what might be called “First Threat”, meaning that the more nuclear weapons that can be deployed by a country, the more assured will be its security. In the words of the State Department, “the declaratory policy of the United States [is] that we would consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances — the language on that that you will find in this Nuclear Posture Review is identical to what you will have found: that the United States would employ nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances, to defend the vital interests of the United States, allies and partners.”
The Pentagon and the State Department, energetically aided by a compliant Congress, are trying to portray the United States as a peace-loving defender of “vital interests” but when global military spending is examined it is obvious that even without the massive increase in financial allocations for development of yet more nuclear weapons, the US is outlaying vast sums on maintaining and expanding its military bases and operations around the world. The recent military budget increases approved by Congress are staggering, and go well beyond what even Trump wanted. He had asked for 603 billion dollars for “normal” expenditure and 65 billion for the various wars being fought by the US round the world, but Congress allocated 716 billion, and shares in major military equipment contractors took an upward leap.
The threat to world peace from expanding US military operations and nuclear development is increasing day by day. The New Cold War emphasis on massive destruction has brought the world closer to Doomsday, as noted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists which states that “nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals.” Since that was written the threat has been increased by Washington’s intentions as laid out in its Nuclear Posture Review.