Pentagon officials are exploring new justifications for the use of nuclear weapons and the addition of smaller weapons to the United States arsenal, according to its forthcoming nuclear weapons review, which was leaked last week. The Pentagon argues in the document that significant, non-nuclear attacks on on the United States could merit a nuclear response.
The New York Times reports that this could include cyberattacks. The document also includes proposals for expanding the country’s nuclear arsenal to include new “low-yield” nuclear weapons. Because the United States’ nuclear weapons are so deadly, some worry that foreign adversaries know that the United States would never use them to retaliate against non-nuclear attacks.
To ensure that the threat of nuclear weapons use is credible, some argue that the nation needs more “low-yield” weapons. America’s larger nuclear weapons, if dropped on a major city, could immediately kill up to four million people. “Low-yield” nuclear weapons, like those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, would lead to deaths in the hundreds of thousands.
Past American presidents have only threatened the use of nuclear weapons in limited circumstances, like in response to nuclear or biological attacks, and this new document’s expansion of those circumstances has some worried about the likelihood of nuclear war.
We’ll talk about the report and its implications with Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a non-proliferation NGO.