Fears of nuclear arms race despite US, Russian pledges

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Washington's new nuclear policy was'in violation of the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty. John Thys  AFP

In his State of the Union address January 30, he made no mention of expansion, though he said the arsenal must deter acts of aggression.

Greg Weaver, deputy director of strategic capabilities for the military's joint staff, told reporters on Friday the "US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation require a wider range of credible low-yield nuclear options" to deter Russian Federation from using its own smaller nuclear weapons.

Although there has been a significant decline in the stockpile of nuclear weapons across the world since the end of Cold War, there are growing fears that a new and reformed arms race might be in place.

The Associated Press reported in January on key elements of the US nuclear review, based on a draft version of the document, including its endorsement of the Obama administration plan for fully modernizing the nuclear arsenal by building a new strategic bomber, a new land-based intercontinental ballistic missile and a new fleet of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.

"The biggest difference relates to the supposed role of nuclear weapons in American military strategy", Michael Klare, an expert at the Arms Control Association, told Xinhua.

"Any use will trigger a nuclear weapons conflict with catastrophic humanitarian consequences for civilians".

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Nunes gave Trump "secretly altered" version of memo Davis: "Deep state" existed in '16 - but it elected Trump Former Trump legal spokesman to testify to Mueller about undisclosed call: report MORE, meanwhile, applauded the new policy.

The stark difference has been described as "disturbing" by Lisbeth Gronlund, senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who noted that the NPR has lowered the threshold of nuclear warfighting by committing nuclear response to non-nuclear aggressions. The U.S. reported it has been in compliance with the limits since August.

It is the first time since 2010 that the USA military has enunciated how it foresees nuclear threats in the coming decades.

"This is the textbook definition of nuclear warfighting".

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The US military has put countering China and Russian Federation at the centre of a new national defence strategy unveiled earlier this month, shifting priorities away from fighting Islamist militants.

"Low-yield" weapons, commonly referred to those with a yield of less than 20 kilotons, are mostly made for tactical use, and now are mainly carried on strategic bombers with gravity bombs.

Gabriel acknowledged that Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine had led to a "dramatic loss of trust towards Russia" in Europe as well as Washington, and that "signs that Russian Federation is re-arming, not only conventionally but with nuclear weapons, are obvious".

Weaver said the most hard task for those working on the review was trying to address the gap between Russian and American non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The strategy says relatively little about arms control.

Aside from slamming the conflict-inviting rhetoric, the academia also questioned the premise which the NPR drew from.

Ren Guoqiang, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, said that "the Chinese side expresses firm opposition" to the report. "By any measure, the USA arsenal is far superior", Gregory Kulacki, an expert at UCS said. In a report issued last Friday, the United States made the rather unexpected observation that China should not mistakenly conclude that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is acceptable.

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.

The Russian foreign ministry accused the United States of warmongering, and said it would take "necessary measures" to ensure Russian security.

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