Just as the White House is caught in a political minefield over the Russia investigation, the Pentagon is taking its toughest line yet against Russia’s resurgent nuclear forces.
In its newly released Nuclear Posture Review, the Defense Department has focused much of its multibillion nuclear effort on an updated nuclear deterrence focused on Russia.
“Russia considers the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to be the principal threats to its contemporary geopolitical ambitions,” the report says.
“DIA also estimates Russia has nuclear armed anti-ship, anti-submarine missiles and torpedoes. What do they need nuclear depth charges for?” one US official asked.
President Donald Trump highlighted the importance of the review’s conclusions Friday in a written statement.
“Over the past decade, despite United States efforts to reduce the roles and numbers of nuclear weapons, other nuclear nations grew their stockpiles, increased the prominence of nuclear weapons in their security strategies, and — in some cases — pursued the development of new nuclear capabilities to threaten other nations,” Trump said.
The Pentagon is adamant the Nuclear Posture Review walks the line between maintaining a nuclear deterrence and encouraging controls on nuclear weapons.
“It reaffirms that the fundamental role of US nuclear policy is deterrence and continues our clear commitment to nonproliferation and arms control,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
First mention of Russian nuclear torpedo system
The report also publicly acknowledges, for the first time, that Russia is “developing” a “new intercontinental, nuclear armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.”
Upon detonation, the device is designed to cause large zones of radioactive contamination.
Some analysts have called it a “doomsday weapon,” and US Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, has labeled the concept “destabilizing.”
“The concept is a horror of the Cold War,” according to Adam Mount, a senior fellow and the director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists. “It is clearly inspired by overblown Russian worries that US missile defenses will make their missile forces obsolete.”
Low yield nuclear weapons
The review calls for more focus on US “low yield” nuclear weapons to try to convince Russia that the US has a credible deterrent against the potential Russian threat. The plan calls for modifying existing US warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles in a $50 million five-year program.
“Neither recommendation requires developing new nuclear warheads,” Shanahan said. “Neither will increase the size of our nuclear stockpile. They break no treaty.”
Mount said that the review’s outline for low-yield nuclear weapons “relies on the assumption that Russia would invade NATO allies, and glosses over important arguments about where and why these weapons would ever be necessary.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis said: “What we have is a nuclear deterrent, so keep those two words always together and then look at the efforts to push forward on nonproliferation and arms control, and you have to do that when you’re in a position of persuasion not of hope.”