Donald Trump’s challenge to the taboo around nuclear weapons should worry us all

Anti-nuclear protester in Berlin wearing a Trump mask

Moves to develop low-yield nuclear weapons for battlefield use could increase the danger of escalating conflict.

Since their first devastating detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of nuclear weapons has been considered a taboo. Historically, US nuclear policy has aimed to ensure that these weapons are leveraged as part of a wider deterrence posture and their actual use would be limited to extreme conditions.

President Trump’s call for the development of new low-yield nuclear warheads challenges this policy and has led to concerns that the President is undermining the long-held taboo against the use of nuclear weapons. The recent reports on the draft Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) suggest that the US intends to expand the role of nuclear weapons and their potential use in the future. The review – if adopted in its current form – could stimulate a new arms race with Russia and further destabilize global security.

The current US nuclear policy relies on deterrence, which means persuading other states that the costs of military action against the US or its allies would be higher than the perceived benefits. But deterrence only works if states have a sufficient and similar level of understanding in regard to the enormous risks and a shared belief in deterrence postures. Efforts to increase the numbers and lower the threshold of use of nuclear weapons could paradoxically escalate the danger if they prompt other states to adopt similar measures.

In this instance, if the US decided to follow a nuclear approach based on the speedy deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons, this could be perceived as an existential threat to Russian nuclear forces, quite possibly leading Russia to react and develop even more new systems. An escalating, spiralling arms race that held the world to ransom during the Cold War was stabilised in large part …read more

Source:: New Statesman

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