Nuclear Weapons

Beyond Nuclear advocates for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and argues that removing them can only make us safer, not more vulnerable. The expansion of commercial nuclear power across the globe only increases the chance that more nuclear weapons will be built and is counterproductive to disarmament.



Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review Is a Dangerous Step Backward

Press Release by

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, February 2, 2018

Contact: Executive Director John Burroughs, (212) 818-1861

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released today at the Pentagon ignores international legal obligations of the United States and increases the risks of nuclear war. Prepared by the Department of Defense in consultation with other agencies, the review was approved by the White House.

Aside from a vague reference to “goals” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the NPR does not acknowledge the obligation under that treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” That obligation was reinforced by an NPT Review Conference “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination” of nuclear arsenals, a commitment approved by the United States. According to a unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice, the obligation requires states “to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.”

None of this is reflected in the NPR. The most offered is a grudging acceptance of arms control measures for purposes of stability and predictability. The Trump NPR thus stands in marked contrast to the 2010 review conducted by the Obama administration, which committed the United States to seek the eventual achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons and addressed how to succeed in that endeavor in some detail.

The Trump NPR also fails to acknowledge that the use of nuclear weapons is subject to the international law of armed conflict, though the Pentagon has done so clearly in other contexts. Thus a 2013 Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy stated that all plans for use of nuclear weapons must “for instance, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize the collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects.” In public appearances last fall, the present and former commanders of Strategic Command stated that orders to use nuclear weapons in violation of the law of armed conflict would be refused. The truth is that nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with that law, above all because their massive indiscriminate effects make it impossible to distinguish between military targets and civilian populations and infrastructure.

The NPR expands the role of nuclear weapons by identifying new circumstances in which they could be used, namely in response to “strategic non-nuclear attacks” including cyber attacks. This change runs directly counter to an NPT commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies in order to facilitate disarmament. It is contrary to the requirement of good faith in pursuing disarmament. And it raises the risks of nuclear war. For example, hard-to-attribute apparent cyber attacks will be considered a possible reason to resort to nuclear weapons, a change that will be all the more risky if other nuclear powers emulate the US policy.

A plan announced by the NPR for the acquisition of low-yield warheads to be mounted on submarine-based missiles is also contrary to the NPT commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. It is especially disturbing because it comes in the context of the NPR’s theme that an era of great-power rivalry has returned. The proposed low-yield warheads are a return to a mode of nuclear war-fighting; supposedly Russia would not be deterred from initiating use of nuclear weapons to “deescalate” a conflict unless the United States has such a capability. Such scenarios rest on the dangerous assumption that nuclear escalation can be controlled. Further, the United States already has deployed low-yield nuclear weapons.

Finally, the Trump NPR carries forward existing plans for the replacement and upgrading of submarine-based, land-based, and air-based (bomber and cruise missile) nuclear forces, while adding a new element, a sea-based cruise missile. From any point of view, this is an extravagant and unaffordable plan. In the budgetary process, Congress must reject the NPR recommendations and inject some sanity into US nuclear planning.


John Burroughs, Executive Director

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Director, UN Office of IALANA

866 UN Plaza, Suite 4050

New York, NY 10017

(212) 818-1861; fax (212) 818-1857


Trump administration publishes Nuclear Posture Review

Thank you to Nukewatch New Mexico for posting the NPR online at its website. (Apparently, the Pentagon took down the NPR for several hours, due to a major error in the initial posting: Taiwan was depicted as a part of China on a map graphic in the earlier version, contradicting U.S. policy.)


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Donald Trump Is Playing a Dangerous Game of Nuclear Poker

A 1952 nuclear detonation at the Nevada Proving Grounds, which Trump has ordered to prepare for resuming tests.
A 1952 nuclear detonation at the Nevada Proving Grounds, just one year after it first opened on Western Shoshone Indian land, which Trump has ordered to prepare for resuming tests. Photograph by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
The article reports that, late last year, the Trump administration ordered the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, to be ready to conduct full-scale underground nuclear weapons test within six months' notice.
However, the article reports, this...
is not enough time to install the warhead in shafts as deep as 4,000 ft. and affix all the proper technical instrumentation and diagnostics equipment. But the purpose of such a detonation, which the Administration labels “a simple test, with waivers and simplified processes,” would not be to ensure that the nation’s most powerful weapons were in operational order, or to check whether a new type of warhead worked, a TIME review of nuclear-policy documents has found. Rather, a National Nuclear Security Administration official tells TIME, such a test would be “conducted for political purposes.”

The point, this and other sources say, would be to show Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iran’s Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and other adversaries what they are up against.

The last full-scale nuclear weapons test was carried out at the Nevada Test Site in Sept. 1992. However, sub-critical nuclear weapons tests (conventional explosions conducted with plutonium, the data from which are put into super computers to advance U.S. nuclear weapons designs) have been carried out there since. 

The National Security Archives reported several years ago, based on previously secret documents it wrested from the U.S. government, that one-third of underground nuclear weapons tests in Nevada from 1951 to 1992, leaked hazardous radioactivity to the environment. 

William Perry, who served as Bill Clinton's Defense Secretary, warns in the article "The risk for nuclear conflict today is higher than it was during the Cold War.” This is due to new dynamics, including the fact that it's not just a bipolar, two-Superpowers show down and "balance of terror" (deterrence through "mutually assured destruction," MAD), but rather a multi-faceted stand off, with numerous nuclear-armed adversaries, including in regions of hot warfare. Perry, who served as a senior advisor to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, shared at a National Cathedral event several weeks ago that he went to bed each of those fateful 13 nights in October 1962 thinking it would be his last night on Earth.

The article also quotes Sam Nunn, the former Democratic U.S. Senator from Georgia:

“We have severe erosion [of nuclear weapons arms control treaties],” Nunn says. “We are going into a period of much greater risk in the nuclear arena.”

William Perry and Sam Nunn joined with Henry Kissinger and John Deutch several long years ago now, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, warning that the U.S. had better lead the way on nuclear weapons abolition, or might just live to regret it. They cited the risk of nuclear war as an existential threat to the United States. Rather than ensure U.S. survival in a dangerous world, through supposed deterrence and MAD, nuclear weapons themselves have now become a leading danger to U.S. survival in an ever more dangerous, and nuclear-armed, world.