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 U.S. President Donald Trump has released a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The document will serve as a comprehensive guideline for U.S. nuclear strategy over the next five to 10 years.
To defend the vital interests of the United States 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 cyber-attacks 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 United States can utilize 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 localized attack.
Efforts would also be made to start a development program 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.
Promote realistic disarmament
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 U.S. deterrent against North Korea. The idea of realizing nuclear disarmament under the initiative of the United States and Russia fell through due to growing antagonism between the two nations that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The Trump administration says the United States now faces “a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before.” Russia has an advantage over the United States 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.
In a comment issued regarding the latest NPR, Foreign Minister Taro Kono highly praised the document, saying it “has clarified [U.S] involvement in increasing deterrence for allies.” He also emphasized efforts to “continue closely cooperating with the United States in trying to promote nuclear disarmament.”
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.