As Americans question whether President Donald Trump has the judgment necessary to command the most capable nuclear arsenal on earth, the Pentagon is moving to order new, more usable nuclear options. Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a Pentagon document that sets the nation’s nuclear policy, demonstrates an aggressive shift that will add to the spiraling cost of the nuclear arsenal, raise the risk of a nuclear exchange, and plunge the country into a new arms race, according to a draft published by HuffPost three weeks ahead of its planned release. Though the document is marked “pre-decisional,” insiders have told me it reflects the final text.
Trump’s NPR marks an abrupt shift from the last eight years, when the nation’s nuclear-weapons policy enjoyed a surprising bipartisan consensus. The Obama review of 2010 proposed a broad compromise: reducing the number of nuclear weapons and relying on them less to deter and fight wars, while at the same time starting a major effort to replace or upgrade nearly every submarine, aircraft, missile, and bomb in the nuclear triad.
The compromise reflected principles of responsible nuclear policy in place since the late Cold War. According to these principles, national security is better served by maintaining a rough balance of forces between the United States and Russia. Both countries, in turn, would gradually reduce the size of their forces. As the U.S. arsenal aged, it would be updated so it could serve existing missions, but wouldn’t acquire additional capabilities. Military and scientific officials now regularly certify that the existing arsenal can be maintained safely, and that there is no military reason to justify its expansion.