Experts Analyze President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review on Capitol Hill

At a recent panel discussion on Capitol Hill, nuclear experts including NTI’s Lynn Rusten debated whether the Trump Administration’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is more consistent with or a departure from past U.S. nuclear policy, and all expressed concerns about the future of the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship.

“In contrast to the 2010 NPR that advanced the long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, this NPR makes the case for an enduring role for nuclear weapons in our national security,” said Rusten, NTI’s senior advisor for global nuclear policy and programs, at the event hosted by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and The Lugar Center.  Panel members included Ambassador Linton Brooks (former Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration) and Dr. Olga Oliker (Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies). The ACA’s Kingston Reif moderated.

Rusten, former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the White House National Security Council staff, said that while previous NPRs have outlined much narrower contingencies for the potential use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear threats, this NPR “does the opposite.”

In a recently released NTI report, Building a Safe, Secure, and Credible NATO Nuclear Posture, NTI Co-Chairs Ernest J. Moniz and Sam Nunn write that “forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe increase the risk of accidents, blunders, or catastrophic terrorism and invite pre-emption. Given these added risks, it is past time to revisit whether these forward-based weapons are essential for military deterrence and political reassurance.”

During the panel discussion, Dr. Oliker took issue with a central premise of the NPR that Russia plans and trains to use low-yield nuclear weapons early as part of an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy in response to a conventional military conflict with NATO or the United States. She asserted that in official statements and military documents, Russia has actually been de-emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in potential conflict as it has strengthened its conventional military capabilities. She found it worrying that the United States was justifying new nuclear capabilities on the basis of an incorrect reading of Russian military doctrine and intentions.

Ambassador Brooks noted both continuity with the Obama administration’s program for modernizing the nuclear deterrent, as well as change in the form of proposed new nuclear capabilities and a strikingly different world view. “This NPR reflects President Trump’s dark view of international relations,” he said. He observed that the NPR was a “Rorschach’s test” in which perceptions of and opinions about its provisions are largely determined by how one viewed the administration and nuclear strategy before reading it. He expressed particular concern that NNSA would not be provided sufficient funding to modernize the aging nuclear weapons infrastructure and to maintain the science base critical to ensuring a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent. He expressed disappointment with the NPR’s silence on arms control.  

For more analysis of the Nuclear Posture Review, read comments by NTI President Joan Rohlfing at a previous panel discussion here.

For more on U.S. nuclear policy and posture, read an op-ed by NTI Co-Chairs Ernest Moniz and Sam Nunn in Bloomberg View and read NTI’s policy papers for more details. 

March 6, 2018
Meaghan Webster
Meaghan Webster

Communications Manager

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