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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visit the Pentagon on July 20. Trump’s administration wants to develop new nuclear weapons and present a generally more aggressive nuclear stance, according to a policy statement that in some ways reaffirms the nuclear policy of former President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON -- With Russia in mind, the Trump administration is aiming to develop new nuclear firepower that it says will make it easier to deter threats to European allies.

The plan, not yet approved by President Donald Trump, is intended to make nuclear conflict less likely. Critics argue that it would do the opposite.

The proposal is spelled out in a policy document, known officially as a nuclear posture review, that puts the U.S. in a generally more aggressive nuclear stance. It is the first review of its kind since 2010 and is among several studies of security strategy undertaken since Trump took office. A variation of the review was carried out by each of the previous two administrations, and typically informs strategy for years going forward.

In many ways it reaffirms the nuclear policy of President Barack Obama, including his commitment to replace all key elements of the nuclear arsenal with new, more modern weapons over the coming two decades.

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It says the U.S. will adhere to existing arms control agreements but also expresses doubt about prospects for any new such pacts. The Trump nuclear doctrine is expected to be published in early February, followed by a related policy on the role and development of U.S. defenses against ballistic missiles.

Where the Trump doctrine splits from Obama's approach is in ending his push to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy. Like Obama, Trump would consider using nuclear weapons only in "extreme circumstances," while maintaining a degree of ambiguity about what that means. But Trump sees a fuller deterrent role for these weapons, as reflected in the plan to develop new capabilities to counter Russia in Europe.

The Huffington Post published online a draft of the nuclear policy report Thursday, and The Associated Press independently obtained a copy Friday. Asked for comment, the Pentagon in a statement called it a "pre-decisional," unfinished document yet to be reviewed and approved by Trump, who ordered it a year ago.

"Our discussion has been robust and several drafts have been written," the statement said. "However, the Nuclear Posture Review has not been completed and will ultimately be reviewed and approved by the President and the Secretary of Defense."

Russia, and to a degree China, are outlined as nuclear policy problems that demand a tougher approach.

The administration's view is that Russian policies and actions are fraught with potential for miscalculation leading to an uncontrolled escalation of conflict in Europe. It specifically points to a Russian doctrine known as "escalate to de-escalate," in which Moscow would use or threaten to use smaller-yield nuclear weapons in a limited, conventional conflict in Europe in the belief that doing so would compel the U.S. and NATO to back down.

"Correcting this mistaken Russian perception is a strategic imperative," the draft says.

The Pentagon accused Russia last year of violating the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by deploying a new nuclear cruise missile that is seen as a threat to Europe.

The administration proposes a two-step solution.

First, it would modify "a small number" of existing long-range ballistic missiles carried by Trident strategic submarines to fit them with smaller-yield nuclear warheads. Despite their "low-yield" designation, the warheads would still likely pack a punch larger than the explosions that leveled the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

"These supplements will enhance deterrence by denying potential adversaries any mistaken confidence that limited nuclear employment can provide a useful advantage over the United States and its allies," the draft says.

Secondly, "in the longer term," it would develop a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile -- re-establishing a weapon that existed during the Cold War but was retired in 2011 by the Obama administration.

Together, these steps are meant to further dissuade "regional aggression," which means giving Russia greater pause in using limited nuclear strikes.

The new weapons could add costs to what was already promised to be a very expensive bill to modernize the nuclear arsenal, most of which is decades old. An assessment by the Congressional Budget Office released last fall found that it will cost $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to build new weapons and maintain them.

Interest in the condition and role of U.S. nuclear weapons has grown as North Korea develops its own nuclear arsenal, which it says is aimed at the U.S.

The Trump administration views the North Korean threats, along with what it sees as provocative nuclear rhetoric from Russia, as evidence that security conditions no longer support the idea that the U.S. can rely less on nuclear weapons or further limit their role in national defense.

The nuclear report also makes rare mention of a newer Russian weapon: a nuclear-armed drone torpedo that could travel undersea to far-off targets.

GLOVES ARE OFF

Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons specialist at the Federation of American Scientists, questions whether the administration is overstating the Russian threat and responding with the right solution. But he said it is clear that Moscow has raised fears in the West by its aggression in Ukraine.

"Clearly, the Russia situation is much more of a direct confrontational situation," he said. "The gloves are off."

Michaela Dodge, a defense analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, declined to comment on the document, citing its unauthorized leakage. Broadly, however, she said some nuclear analysts have said adding new ways to deliver nuclear weapons could launch a new arms race.

"But my sense is that there already is a nuclear arms race," she said. "It's just that the United States is not racing. It's actually standing by and observing while the Russians and the Chinese are building new nuclear capabilities, and the North Koreans are advancing their nuclear weapons capabilities and expanding them."

Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer who co-founded Global Zero, which advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons, called the report "basically a status quo document" except for the plan to develop new nuclear options for countering Russia. He worries that these could lead the U.S. into "blundering into a nuclear war with Russia." Blair based his comments partly on knowledge of the report's content before it appeared online.

"The Pentagon's underlying motivation," Blair said, "is fear of Russia's new option for striking U.S. and Western European civilian infrastructure -- financial, energy, transportation and communications -- with cyber and conventional forces."

Moscow developed this doctrine in recent years to exploit vulnerabilities in vital Western infrastructure, such as communications networks, he said. This falls into a category of threat the Trump administration calls "non-nuclear strategic," meaning it could inflict unacceptably high numbers of casualties or costs.

Jon Wolfsthal, a former Obama administration official who worked on nuclear issues on the National Security Council, said the Trump administration is on solid ground in sending a strong message that the United States will not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons, but "runs off the rails" in arguing that new capabilities are needed.

Congress has rejected previous Pentagon efforts to add new submarine-launched warheads, in part because it isn't clear how Russia would react if a missile is launched at it and the size of the warhead on it could not be determined, Wolfsthal said.

Authors of the Trump nuclear doctrine argue that adding new U.S. nuclear capabilities to deter Russia in Europe will lessen, not increase, the risk of war. They worry that the nuclear-capable aircraft that are currently the only Europe-based nuclear force to counter Russia have become less credible, in part because they may be vulnerable to Russian air defenses. Thus, the focus is on adding sea-launched U.S. nuclear weapons to the mix.

"This is not intended to, nor does it, enable 'nuclear war-fighting,'" the draft report says. Instead, the goal is to make nuclear conflict less likely by ensuring that "potential adversaries" see no possible advantage in escalating a conventional conflict to the nuclear level.

Information for this article was contributed by Robert Burns of The Associated Press and by Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post.

A Section on 01/14/2018

Print Headline: New nuke muscle in proposal billed as threat deterrent

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  • RBear
    January 14, 2018 at 7:17 a.m.

    Looks like Trump has brought us back into the Cold War. Each day, this administration looks more like the Nixon White House than anything else. My first question is how would Trump fund this new arsenal. From the article, "An assessment by the Congressional Budget Office released last fall found that it will cost $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to build new weapons and maintain them."
    ...
    Trump and his Republican cronies have already cut taxes to create a $1 trillion addition to the debt. Add this and we're talking $400 billion more with increasing costs as the arsenal ages. Of course, those figures are always understated so let's just add in the 30% budget overrun and call it $1.5 trillion. This administration just loves to spend money to fund government contractors, all the while cutting taxes that could have at least offset the expenses.
    ...
    Don't EVER tell me Democrats just want to spend money. There has been more money spent on useless projects by Republicans than Democrats. Of course, the Trump demographic couldn't put two facts together to grasp this concept.

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