US to loosen its nuclear weapons policy and develop low-yield bombs
Washington is planning on changing its nuclear weapons policy and developing more "usable" nuclear warheads for US on its Trident missiles.
According to Jon Wolfsthal, a former official who had seen the recent draft of the policy review, the decision to modify the warheads was intended to deter Russia from using tactical warheads in a hypothetical conflict in Eastern Europe.
The rationale behind developing low-yield warheads was that Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons, thinking that the US would be reluctant to respond with its own larger warheads.
Jon Wolfsthal told the Guardian: "What I've been told by the people who wrote the thing was that what they were trying to do was to send a clear deterrent message to Russians, the North Koreans and the Chinese.
"Where they go overboard, is where they say that in order to make that credible the US needs to develop two new types of nuclear weapons."
The White House's proposal raised 'alarm bells' among arms control advocates.
Critics said low-yield warheads made a nuclear war more likely, especially taking into account the president’s volatility and his ease to issue threats of using US nuclear weaponry, whereas the Obama administration had sought to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the US defence arsenal.
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association wrote on the Arms Control Today website that the Trump administration was lapsing into "dangerous, Cold War thinking".
"The United States already possesses a diverse array of nuclear capabilities, and there is no evidence that more usable weapons will strengthen deterrence of adversaries or compel them to make different choices about their arsenals.
"Moreover, once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict against another nuclear-armed adversary, even in small numbers or in a regional conflict, there is no guarantee against a cycle of escalation leading to all-out global nuclear war."
Since he took office, Donald Trump had made clear his support for nuclear weapons, talking about increasing the US’s stockpile and even going as far as threatening North Korea with their use in reprisal for any attack on the US.
He also suggested he might build delivery vehicles that would breach the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.
Wolfsthal's understanding was that the US would begin working on reintroducing a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile in response to a new ground-launched cruise missile that it accused Russia of developing in violation of that same treaty.