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The Pentagon plans to develop two “low-yield” nuclear warheads to be launched from ballistic-missile submarines and warships, to send a message to Moscow — which the Trump administration accuses of amassing a stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.
The new plan is outlined in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s Nuclear Posture Review, released Friday afternoon.
“Expanding U.S. tailored response options will raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely,” the new review said.
The Pentagon says Russia’s buildup of similar “low-yield” nukes is the reason it must match the threat.
“The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan. “Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” he added without offering specifics.
Russian and Chinese officials were briefed by State Department officials Friday morning about the nuclear posture review.
It’s the first such review in seven years, but much has changed since 2010, when the U.S. unilaterally reduced portions of its nuclear arsenal.
“Over the past decade, while the United States led the world in these reductions every one of our potential nuclear adversaries has been pursuing the exact opposite strategy,” said Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “These powers are increasing the numbers and types of nuclear weapons in their arsenal.”
After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, it deployed nuclear-capable intermediate range missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the border with Poland, leaving NATO leaders feeling helpless.
“Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling is unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in 2015. Any deployment of nuclear forces to Crimea would “fundamentally change the balance of security in Europe,” he added.
Russia is bound by a decades-long arms treaty, known as the INF, from deploying ground-launched intermediate-range missiles. The Pentagon has accused Russia of violating the treaty, noting that Russia is also developing nuclear depth charges, torpedoes and anti-aircraft missiles among its 2,000 tactical nukes.
“Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle, and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo,” according to the review.