On Monday night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a candidate for president in 2020, seemed not to understand the concept of tactical nuclear weapons. She warned against developing nuclear weapons that are “tactile,” warning such weapons are dangerous.
There is no such thing as a “tactile nuclear weapon.” Gillibrand meant to attack tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed for use on the battlefield with friendly forces in the proximity. Such weapons are intended to limit the destructive power of a nuclear missile, so nuclear weapons could be used with precision. This makes these weapons less dangerous.
Yet Gillibrand attacked the low-yield nuclear weapons as still too dangerous because “two of them equals Hiroshima.”
“When you say you want to develop low-yield nuclear weapons that are tactile, what you’re saying is you want to use them,” she said. The senator poo-pooed any notion of deterrence or the ability to strike back after an enemy’s nuclear attack, and declared that she opposed the entire defense bill because of the one provision for low-yield nuclear weapons.
“If I am president, I’m going to make sure we unwind that,” she added.
“They’re trying to create nuclear weapons that are usable,” Gillibrand warned. “I don’t think we should be trying to create tactile nuclear weapons. Not only is it a waste of money, but it increases the risk of actually using them.”
She then attacked President Donald Trump for insisting that he could use a nuclear weapon to diffuse the threat from North Korea. “I don’t believe any president should have the right to fire a nuclear weapon preemptively,” she said. “I think it is hugely problematic, and will result in a world war. It will result in World War III.”
Gillibrand was right to push back against Trump’s suggestion he could use a nuclear weapon without a declaration of war from Congress. However, her stance against tactical nuclear weapons reveals a naiveté unfitting for a commander-in-chief. The world is dangerous, and whether or not the U.S. produces newer weapons, enemies are likely to do so.
Deterrence is a key goal of military policy. It makes sense to build up the military to the degree that enemies will hesitate to attack the U.S. because they know they would lose a war. The development of tactical nuclear weapons that can devastate the enemy while protecting friendly forces was a huge coup in modern warfare. America should pursue this, not because the military “wants to use” the low-yield nuclear weapons but because enemies are more likely to attack if America does not have the newest, most sophisticated weapons.
Not only did Gillibrand show her misunderstanding of military matters, but she twice referred to tactical nuclear weapons as “tactile.” Do Americans really want her at the helm?
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.