Security, North America
Trump’s nuclear posture plan reflects the current bipartisan recognition that the world has grown far more dangerous since 2010.
On February 2, the Trump administration published its review of U.S. nuclear forces and policy. The congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) builds upon prudent elements of the Obama administration’s plans to modernize America’s nuclear weapons. But it departs from the optimism expressed in the 2010 NPR. That change reflects the current bipartisan recognition that the world has grown far more dangerous since 2010.
Robust Modernization and Sustainment Programs
The 2018 NPR supports a robust modernization program for nuclear delivery systems: bombers, strategic submarines, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. These systems, deployed in the 1980s or earlier, provide a mix of attributes like survivability, flexibility, and responsiveness that strengthen deterrence and complicate adversaries’ efforts to attack the U.S. homeland and allies.
But the United States may not enjoy air superiority in all future conflicts. Consequently, the NPR endorses continued development of the Long-Range Stand Off weapon. This weapon will be able to reach targets that would otherwise have to be hit by only our oldest bombers exposed to high risk en route to their targets.
The review provides for extended deterrence by upholding U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployment to Europe. Although the NPR calls these weapons “non-strategic,” their use in combat would have profound strategic implications. The United States is in the process of extending the life of the B-61 gravity bomb that fulfills this mission and designing the F-35 to be able to carry them.
The new NPR continues the Obama era policy of recapitalizing the nuclear triad. It also calls for investing more in maintaining and securing existing nuclear warheads. U.S. nuclear weapons are old. They have long outlived their original service lives and have not been tested in yield-producing experiments in a quarter century. Ensuring that our nuclear warheads are safe, secure and reliable is an enormous technological challenge. And it is essential because we will need nuclear weapons deterrence in years and decades ahead.
Realistic Threat Assessment