Reviewing the Nuclear Posture Review: Here’s what you need to know

US President Donald J. Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) calls for enhanced deterrence and a larger nuclear arsenal.

The administration released the new review on February 2. Outlined in the strategy is Trump’s decision to pursue a path toward augmenting nuclear capabilities against the backdrop of increasing tensions with North Korea—as it moves ever closer to its own nuclear weapons—as well as nuclear-armed adversaries such as Russia. He has advocated for increasing the number of low-yield nuclear weapons to bolster US deterrent capabilities. 

Read the full review here

We asked our analysts their thoughts on the new nuclear strategy. Here is their take:

Elisabeth Braw, nonresident senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security: 

“While the Nuclear Posture Review may contain no radical departures from the Obama administration’s nuclear policy, the public debate is already focusing on the low-yield nuclear weapons. The European public will see this as another dangerous Trump policy at an already tense time in the transatlantic relationship.”

Ian Brzezinski, senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security: 

“[US] Secretary of Defense [Jim] Mattis’ NPR appropriately addresses what has become an increasingly destabilizing factor in the US-Russia balance of power: Moscow’s far greater variety of non-strategic nuclear payloads and means of delivery. The limited spectrum of US capability in this realm has contributed to Moscow’s renewed confidence that its nuclear arsenal can be used effectively to coerce its adversaries and, in the event of a conflict, exercise escalation dominance. The 2018 NPR presents a path to US nuclear capabilities needed to mitigate the dangers presented by that imbalance, including a heightened risk of nuclear first use by Russia.

Matthew Kroenig, senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security:

“The nuclear security environment has greatly deteriorated in the past several years and the new Nuclear Posture Review strikes the right balances between adapting US nuclear strategy to address these new challenges while maintaining continuity with America’s longstanding nuclear deterrence, arms control, and nonproliferation goals.”

Robert A. Manning, senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security:

“The NPR reflects how much more dangerous this second nuclear age has become even since the previous NPR in 2010. The world now faces North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities, Russia’s new doctrine emphasizing tactical nuclear weapons, Sino-Indian standoff at Doklam in the Himalayas, Chinese assertiveness, and expansive irredentism raising the risks of conflict in Northeast Asia. The risk of great-power conflict is no longer unimaginable. There is a troubling trend challenging the nuclear taboo, one seeming to lower the threshold for nuclear use. Any notion of ‘limited’ nuclear war faces the law of unintended consequences. Russia and China may be competitors, but there is a need to pursue measures to reinforce strategic stability as we learned during the Cold War. It is a concern that the new NPR does not discuss the need for efforts to define strategic stability with China that was emphasized by the previous NPR.”

Frank Miller, Atlantic Council board director, former special assistant to the president and senior director for defense policy and arms control:

“The Nuclear Posture Review is squarely in the mainstream of traditional US deterrence policy. It provides a sober assessment of a troubled world security situation and offers a measured, affordable and prudent set of policies and plans to enhance US and allied security by raising the nuclear threshold.”

Todd Rosenblum, nonresident senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security:

“The United States must maintain a strong nuclear deterrent that adversaries believe we would use should we face catastrophic loss or threats to our fundamental security. However, the goal is to avoid nuclear weapons use, and this Nuclear Posture Review expands the circumstances by which we would contemplate turning to our most destructive weapons. The new Nuclear Posture Review also wrongly calls for building new, smaller-yield nuclear weapons. Doing so increases the likelihood for use below the most extraordinary circumstances, undermining nuclear stability. North Korea is a new nuclear threat to the homeland that must be taken into account, but our current nuclear and non-nuclear arsenal is beyond adequate to respond. The most important void in the new Nuclear Posture Review is its silence on securing global nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological materials. Fear of loose and trafficked materials in the hands of terrorist organizations that may not be deterrable is truly frightening and should be one of our highest national security priorities.”

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Related Experts: Ian Brzezinski, Matthew Kroenig, and Robert A. Manning

Image: US President Donald Trump holds a meeting at the US Customs and Border Protection's National Targeting Centre in Sterling, Virginia, US February 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)