February, 9, 2018
First, what's a Tomahawk? A Tomahawk is a subsonic cruise missile. Long range capability plus all-weather deployment make it a Navy favorite. You've seen them being fired from destroyers, submarines, and other vessels towards Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Hard to detect, with ground-following capability, they can sneak past defenses and pack a huge explosive punch.
Well, this Administration, gung-ho on projecting US might, wants to scrap all previous nuclear treaties and ramp up US missile "defense" which is of course a misnomer for "offense." Part of the issue of the SALT Treaties (I, II and the addendum that some people nicknamed SALT III) was to reduce the Soviet and US arsenals from over 10,000 nuclear bombs to a mere 1,500 or so. A huge number of the decommissioned weapons were limited tactical nuclear weapons, limited in yield. Oh, yes, limited yield, about the same as Nagasaki or Hiroshima in the 1 megaton range. We even had secret nuclear cannon-fired Howitzer shells stationed in Europe to defend against a Soviet tank attack… as part of the SALT Treaties, we supposedly scrapped those. Easily deployed, without full Presidential oversight for firing, those Howitzer shells could have provoked a quick up-tick in global conflict. Small nuclear weapons, not under strict control, are harder to manage from an oversight position.
And that's what wrong with the newest request from this Administration. They want to arm Tomahawk missiles with "low-yield nuclear warheads." Normally, at $1.4 million apiece, they are seen as disposable inventory in a conflict. Add a nuclear tip and the price goes up to $1.6 million. And do they have the capability yet? You bet… AGM-86 ALCM is the US Air Force's current nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile and the Navy is being told it should want the same capability for their Tomahawks.
One significant change from previous Nuclear Posture set out by the Bush and then Obama Administrations is that their policies sought to raise the threshold for the use of such weapons, make the checks and balances much more robust. It is why a Tweeter at 6 a.m. can't get all riled up and push a button. And I am not kidding.
However, this Administration's new draft National Policy Review shows they plan to lower the threshold for the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States. "The document explicitly lists a wide array of non-nuclear attacks that could constitute grounds for a U.S. nuclear response: attacks on U.S. or allied civilians or infrastructure and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command-and-control or warning systems. The document makes the Orwellian claim that this will not lower the threshold but raise it," write Lisbeth Gronlund and Stephen Young in Aviation Week & Space Technology (Jan. 26).
You see, previous Administrations set as a standard the sole purpose of making of U.S. nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack on the United States, its military forces and allies. This new National Policy Review effectively abandons that goal and what's worse wants training to start immediately integrating conventional warfare with nuclear weapons as part of that strategic planning. If that's not ramping up the planned use of nuclear tactical weapons, I don't know what is.
Oh, and as a final insult to intelligence, the new Administration also issued a statement that the US continues to "abide by its obligations" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the central tenet of which is an obligation for the US and others to pursue nuclear disarmament.