Wednesday, December 20, 2017

US could broaden its use of nuclear weapons, Trump administration signals

US could broaden its use of nuclear weapons, Trump administration signals

Wider role for weapons to counter ‘non-nuclear strategic attacks’ unveiled as part of Trump’s new security strategy, which also failed to address climate change

Donald Trump unveiled his ‘America First’ national security strategy on 18 December. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Julian Borger in Washington

Mon 18 Dec ‘17 17.58 EST Last modified on Tue 19 Dec ‘17 10.21 EST

   The Trump administration signaled that it could broaden the use of nuclear weapons as part of a new security strategy, unveiled by the president on Monday.

   The wider role for nuclear weapons against “non-nuclear strategic attacks” was one of several ways in which Trump’s approach differed from his predecessor. The threat of climate change went unmentioned. The word “climate” was used only four times in the National Security Strategy (NSS), and three of those mentions referred to the business environment. Americans were instead urged to “embrace energy dominance”.
Trump drops climate change from US national security strategy

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  Announcing the NSS, Donald Trump depicted his election victory and his presidency as an unprecedented turning point in US history.

   “America is coming back, and America is coming back strong,” the president said. “We are rebuilding our nation, our confidence, and our standing in the world … [W]e will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before.”

   On the same day of the NSS launch, however, the US found itself isolated at the UN security council, where the other 14 members, including Washington’s closest allies, voted to rescind Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

  The US envoy, Nikki Haley, called the vote an “insult” that “won’t be forgotten”.
Piling on the insults, the French foreign minister, Yves Le Drian, said on a visit to Washington that US isolation on several global issues “forces President Trump to have a position of retreat on most topics rather than making proposals”.

   Under the slogan of “peace through strength”, Trump emphasised the military buildup he had ordered, involving what the president described (wrongly) as a record in defence spending, $700bn for 2018.

  The question is – are we creating more pathways to potential nuclear war?
Hans Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists

  “We recognise that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unrivaled power is the most certain means of defence,” he said.

  The NSS policy document criticises the downgrading of the role of nuclear weapons in the US security strategy by previous administrations since the cold war, and suggested it had not prevented nuclear-armed adversaries expanding their arsenals and delivery systems.

  “While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression,” the NSS said.

  “Non-nuclear strategic attacks” represents a new category of threat that US nuclear weapons could be used to counter, and points towards likely changes in the Nuclear Posture Review expected in the next few weeks.

  In September, the deputy assistant secretary of defence, Rob Soofer, included “cyber-attacks against US infrastructure” in the category of non-nuclear strategic threats.

   “This is a very strong hint. It matches a lot of rumours we have heard over the past few weeks,” said Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s a taste of what will come in the Nuclear Posture Review. What is interesting is the broadening of the nuclear weapons mission against non-nuclear attacks. The question is – are we creating more pathways to potential nuclear war?”

  Much of Trump’s speech launching the NSS was devoted to denigrating his predecessors, who he portrayed as having let their country down.
Nuclear annihilation 'one tantrum away', Nobel peace prize winner warns

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  “They lost sight of America’s destiny. And they lost their belief in American greatness. As a result, our citizens lost something as well. The people lost confidence in their government and, eventually, even lost confidence in their future,” the president said.

  With its language about national resurgence and competition with other states, George Lopez, emeritus peace studies professor at Notre Dame University, said the NSS “sounds a lot like the 1980s revisited”.

   “In casting a world of competition in which everything is focused on nation states, it doesn’t account for biological pandemics or climate change,” Lopez said.

  He noted the dissonance between the White House and the Pentagon on climate change. The NSS directly contradicts the National Defence Authorisation Act the president signed this week, which called climate change a “direct threat to the national security of the United States”.

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