The possibility that nuclear weapons will be used in a regional or global conflict has increased over the past decade, according to a newly released report from the Pentagon.
The 67-page report, titled simply “Joint Nuclear Operations,” is billed as a statement of “fundamental principles and guidance to plan, execute, and assess nuclear operations.” It was originally completed in April 2020, but was released to the Federation of American Scientists last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
In an eye-catching introduction to the first chapter, the report states that while the US has tried to “reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction.
“They have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenal, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior,” the report continues. “There now exists an unprecedented range and mix of threats, including major conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space, and cyber threats and violent non-state actors.”
The report further notes that despite attempts by the US since 2010 to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in international affairs and to negotiate reductions in the number of nuclear weapons … no potential adversary has reduced either the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy or the number of nuclear weapons it fields. Rather, they have moved decidedly in the opposite direction.
“As a result,” it continues, “there is an increased potential for regional conflicts involving nuclear-armed adversaries in several parts of the world and the potential for adversary nuclear escalation in crisis or conflict.”
In addition to Russia and China, the report name-checks North Korea and Iran as potential nuclear threats. According to the document, Pyongyang’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons “poses the most immediate and dire proliferation threat to international security and stability,” while Tehran’s “development of increasingly long-range ballistic missile capabilities, and its aggressive strategy and activities to destabilize neighboring governments, raises questions about its long-term commitment to forgoing nuclear weapons capability.”
Since the report was published, the Biden administration has extended the New START nuclear arms control treaty for five years and begun negotiations to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.
Meanwhile, the U.S. envoy to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva said Thursday that China is “looking at” developing naval and aerial autonomous nuclear weapons systems.
“If they were to develop … these kinds of weapons and aerial systems, this has the potential to change the strategic stability environment in a dynamic way,” Ambassador Robert Wood told reporters.
The United States doesn’t have either type of system.
“This is not where China was 10 years ago,” Wood added. “They’re pursuing weapons similar to some of the nuclear-powered delivery systems that the Russians have been pursuing.”
Russia has said its development of such weaponry is aimed at countering the United States’ defenses against ballistic missiles, though Washington insists that its defensive system is designed to protect the U.S. homeland from North Korean missiles, not Russia’s or China’s.
With Post wires