Barack Obama got some bad news on Friday when the Pentagon released a new nuclear arms policy that calls for two new types of weapons, effectively ending the former president’s efforts to reduce the size and scope of the U.S. arsenal and minimize the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning.
Anchorage Daily News reported that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained that the changes reflect a need to “look reality in the eye” and “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”
Obama’s policy hinged on what he called a moral obligation for the United States to lead by example in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. However, officials in Donald Trump’s administration and the military have said that Obama’s approach proved overly idealistic, particularly as Russia re-emerged as a foe, and failed to convince U.S. nuclear adversaries to follow suit.
“Over the course of the last several years, Russia and China have been building new types and kinds of nuclear weapons, both delivery systems and actual warheads,” said Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We have not, which means the capability of Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals is actually getting better against ours.”
This is all part of Trump’s efforts to expand and strengthen U.S. nuclear capabilities. During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump promised to build a nuclear arsenal “so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.”
Critics are claiming that the Department of Defense lowered the threshold for what might provoke a U.S. nuclear strike by mentioning cyber attacks in the list of non-nuclear strategic threats.
The new policy “calls for more usable nuclear weapons with low yields, and for their first use in response to cyber and conventional strikes on civilian infrastructure such as financial, transportation, energy and communications networks,” said Bruce Blair, co-founder of the antinuclear weapons advocacy group Global Zero. “It makes nuclear war more likely, not less.”
However, Rob Soofer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, argued that the new policy will actually raise the threshold by making Russia less likely to think it can get away with a limited nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.
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