WASHINGTON — Democrats are trying to outlaw the low-yield nuclear weapons sought by President Trump, arguing that they increase the risk of the U.S. entering a nuclear war.
While announcing the conclusion of the administration’s nuclear posture review in February, Trump said he wanted to pursue “modernization of our nuclear command, control, and communications, all three legs of our triad, our dual capable aircraft, and our nuclear infrastructure.”
The review called for development of a low-yield nuclear warhead for use on submarine-launched ballistic missiles. A project allocation of $65 million was included in the Energy Department spending bill that recently passed, and the research and development approval was included in the National Defense Authorization Act that become law in August.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) argued that the Trident II D5 low-yield nuclear warhead “dangerously lowers the threshold to nuclear use and siphons money away from genuine military readiness needs.”
“We already have a nuclear deterrent that is more than adequate to achieve our national security goals,” Smith said. “Funding new, low-yield weapons would only draw us further into an unnecessary nuclear arms race and increase the risks of miscalculation.”
In May, various officials ranging from former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Defense Secretary William Perry, to California Gov. Jerry Brown and former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), circulated a letter calling on lawmakers to stop funding for the warhead as “there is no need for such weapons and building them would make the United States less safe.”
“Perhaps the biggest fallacy in the whole argument is the mistaken and dangerous belief that a ‘small’ nuclear war would remain small. There is no basis for the dubious theory that, if Russia used a ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapon and the United States responded in kind, the conflict could stay at that level,” they wrote. “…Ultimately, the greatest concern about the proposed low-yield Trident warhead is that the president might feel less restrained about using it in a crisis.”
Smith’s bill to prohibit the research, develop, production, and deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles is co-sponsored by Reps. Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). A version was introduced in the Senate by Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
“There is no military requirement for this weapon. Its indistinguishability from any other submarine-launched nuclear weapon risks a miscalculation,” Markey said in a statement. “Its development is just a further example of how the Trump administration is surrendering decades of American leadership that have helped move the world away from the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon, and the Trump administration’s attempts to market a new one are ill-advised and dangerous.”