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Rising Concerns About Nuclear War as Trump Prepares to Loosen Constraints on Weapons

"We are flirting with unacceptably high risks that carry catastrophic consequences for the country and the world. No one can afford to not take Trump's threats seriously."

Jessica Corbett

Protesters gathered to ask President Donald Trump to stop his drive to war against North Korea on August 14, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Advocates of nuclear disarmament are raising alarms about reports that the Trump administration is planning to loosen constraints on the U.S. nuclear weapons program, warning that the Pentagon's forthcoming plan "makes nuclear war more likely."

Jon Wolfsthal, an official who worked on arms control in the Obama administration and has reviewed what he believes is the final version of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), told the Guardian the Pentagon's new review includes plans to develop more nuclear weapons and expand "the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal, to include a response to a non-nuclear attack that caused mass casualties, or was aimed at critical infrastructure or nuclear command and control sites."

Wolfsthal said those crafting the NPR wanted to employ "strong language that makes clear that any attempt by Russia or North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in a massive consequence," which he believes is "very much needed," while the plan to develop two new types of nuclear weapons is "where they go overboard," because the U.S. already has low-yield weapons, so the additions would be "totally unneccessary."

"Both the NSS and the soon-to-be-published Nuclear Posture Review reflect Trump's seeming obsession with nuclear weapons and nuclear war."
— Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Meanwhile, Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, expressed overall concerns about the "dangerous new policy" that will be outlined in the NPR, which is expected to released after U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address at the end of the month.

"If it includes, as reports indicate, a plan to develop two new types of nuclear weapons," Hudson said, "the weapons will be deemed more 'usable' and nuclear war will be more likely."

"The review also includes new scenarios for when nuclear weapons would be used to respond to non-nuclear attacks," Hudson noted. "This is a hostile and provocative development and will be understood as such by other states."

Hudson acknowledged the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) that was published last month—which experts warned could create "more pathways to potential nuclear war" and, as Hudson observed, was "littered with references to nuclear weapons and a belligerent approach to North Korea"—and concluded, "Both the NSS and the soon-to-be-published Nuclear Posture Review reflect Trump's seeming obsession with nuclear weapons and nuclear war."

During Trump's first year in office, he has made several nuclear threats directed primarily at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose nation's developing nuclear weapons program has heightened nuclear tensions worldwide. While Trump's tweets and statements about North Korea and nuclear war have garnered widespread condemnation, some critics, such as legal expert and peace advocate Marjorie Cohn, argue it is actually grounds to remove him from office. 

Pointing to a recent public spat between Trump and Kim, who argued over the New Year about whose "nuclear button" is "bigger," Cohn wrote that Trump's tweet in the exchange "violates several laws." Cohn outlined those violations and highlighted comments from legal and nuclear experts who were alarmed by the latest hostile remarks by the leaders of two nations armed with nuclear weapons.

"Nuclear war is not a game," said Derek Johnson, executive director of the anti-nuclear group Global Zero. "We are flirting with unacceptably high risks that carry catastrophic consequences for the country and the world. No one can afford to not take Trump's threats seriously."

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