Analysis. The new guidelines on the US nuclear arsenal appeal to Japan but not so much to Europe. In effect, the document is a symbolic counterpoint to the UN nuclear ban treaty.

Trump wants a bigger arsenal of small nuclear bombs

He replied to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un that “My nuclear button is bigger than yours.” Friday, it turned out that what Donald Trump really wanted was many little red buttons, controlling a large number of small atomic bombs with a yield of one kiloton or less, but which are effective all the same.

Out with the old ballistic cruise missiles, slow and inaccurate, and in with faster and more modern weaponry, to be mounted on the new F-35 stealth fighters and on submarines, in order to have as many “mini nukes” as possible. Only in Trump’s imagination could the scenarios involving the use of such bombs be kept under control, scenarios which he also envisions as possible responses to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks”—that is, cyber attacks or attacks on infrastructure, civilian populations and strategic assets under the control of the US and its allies by Russia, China, North Korea and also Iran.

This is what one can read in the Feb. 2 update of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the plan that contains the political and strategic guidelines regarding nuclear weapons, and which had been unchanged since 2010.

Even though US House Democrats such as Adam Smith judged the plan to be little more than a propaganda wish list, this exercise in Trumpian muscle flexing did not do much to reassure the world, especially now, when—among other developments—the old START treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the result of the movement for disarmament and peace during the ’80s and’ 90s, is set to expire. The end of its period of application came Monday, although a five-year extension has been more or less agreed upon with Russia—which is now being demonized by Trump as the origin of the need for a new nuclear rearmament.

“The fact that we are entering a phase featuring the expiration of the oldest international non-proliferation treaties, not only the START but also the INF treaty, makes the revising of the Nuclear Posture Review, as has been done by the Pentagon, even more risky,” says Francis Vignarca, coordinator of the Rete Disarmo (Disarmament Network), an Italian partner of the ICAN campaign that won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and which resulted in the adoption by the UN in July of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

The text of the US plan (the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review) reads as a countermove, also from a symbolic point of view, against the new UN treaty banning atomic arsenals, seeing as—according to Daniel Högsta, the coordinator of the ICAN network, on his recent visit to Rome last week—“just last month, the stigma effect of the Treaty, corroborated by the words of Pope Francis and the lobbying work we are doing as a campaign, led two large pension funds, one Dutch and one Norwegian, to divest themselves of all assets connected to companies that do business with nuclear weapons.”

The United States, together with all the great powers, has not joined the UN treaty, but ICAN are confident that they will get to the fiftieth ratification by an individual country, which will make the treaty enter into force, and they are exerting pressure on all political forces—including Italian voters, since Rome is among the holdouts. In this, they are faithfully continuing a tradition of fighting on the front lines for the banning of anti-personnel mines, cluster mines, and for a moratorium on the death penalty.

In Europe, the restart of an arms race featuring low yield nuclear weapons is particularly unwelcome in Belgium, and also in Germany. During the ‘80s, the 70,000 warheads deployed on German soil were cut down to 7,000. In the Rhineland alone, twenty B61 missiles are kept in US military bases, which are now being prepared for replacement by the more agile and sophisticated B61-12—just like the at least 50 nuclear bombs found on the US bases in Aviano and Ghedi, for which Italy pays €23 million per year to store and supervise, as the MilEx 2018 dossier explains. A poll showed that most Germans are in favor of the complete withdrawal of these weapons from their territory, which has also been the object of an official request by the Greens and die Linke made to the nascent Merkel-Schulz government.

On the other hand, the reaction by the Japanese government is at the opposite pole. Even though the country suffered the effects of the (relatively low-yield) bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to their new, bellicose anti-Korean approach, they refused to join the UN ban and instead expressed “great appreciation” for the revised US NPR.

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