A new report on the nation’s nuclear defense posture focuses on how to strengthen America and her allies, a top Pentagon official says.
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review “re-establishes deterrence of nuclear attack against us, our allies, and our partners as the top priority of U.S. nuclear policy,” David J. Trachtenberg, the Defense Department’s deputy undersecretary for policy, said at an event Monday at The Heritage Foundation.
“And given the changes in the security environment,” Trachtenberg said, “this is a prudent, realistic, and necessary change.”
Heritage describes the report as explaining the rationale for modernizing nuclear weapons, and “steps the nation must take to keep U.S. nuclear weapons safe, secure, reliable, and effective.”
Trachtenberg said the document lays out several goals to help strengthen defense systems at home and abroad, such as reaffirming the policy that the U.S. would use its nuclear power only as a last resort.
“The declaratory policy makes clear that the United States would consider the use of nuclear weapons only in response to extreme circumstances that threaten our vital interests,” he said.
The report suggests two programs to strengthen deterrence and prevent attacks.
“First is the modification of a small number of submarine-launch ballistic missiles to include a low deal option,” Trachtenberg said. “Second is the pursuit of a nuclear, sea-launch cruise missile.”
The options, he said, would not be new or require nuclear testing.
“The sea-launched cruise missile is a capability that the United States possessed for decades until it was recently retired, and both capabilities are fully consistent with our treaty obligations,” Trachtenberg said. “The goal of the 2018 [Nuclear Posture Review’s] capability recommendations is to tailor U.S. deterrent strategy to contemporary requirements.”
Preventing a situation where the nation would need to use nuclear forces always should be the goal, he said.
“Effective deterrence must shape potential adversaries’ calculations to ensure that they do not see the employment of nuclear weapons as a useful option in any circumstances,” Trachtenberg said. “If an adversary believes it can achieve its objectives through the limited use of nuclear weapons, then we risk deterrence failure.”
The U.S. continues to monitor Russia’s military actions, the Pentagon official said.
“Moscow may mistakenly believe we lack a credible deterrent to a limited, low-yield threat,” he said. “The [Nuclear Posture Review] recommends a low-yield ballistic missile because it will help preclude any potential adversary from believing that its use of low-yield nuclear weapons would enable it to escalate its way on the failed conventional conflict.”
Preventing war is the main objective, Trachtenberg said:
The goal of our recommendations reflected in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review is to deter war, not to fight one. If nuclear weapons are employed in conflict, it is because deterrence failed. And the goal of the 2018 [Nuclear Posture Review] is to make sure that deterrence will not fail.
Strengthening deterrence is not simply a matter of nuclear capabilities. Just as we did throughout the review process, we will continue to work closely with allies and partners.