Like its three predecessors, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reaffirmed the need for the nuclear triad of bombers, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Now comes the hard part.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), colloquially known as the “Ban Treaty,” is hailed by supporters as the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons states, including the United States, have criticized the treaty on its shortcomings as a legal instrument for disarmament. Beyond this criticism, the United States has done little to engage with the Ban Treaty or its supporters. But ignoring the Ban Treaty is a bad idea that will exacerbate the divide between nuclear and non-nuclear states and could lead to a dangerously uneven pace of international disarmament.
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, preceded by wide debate, is enjoying a honeymoon of sorts. Domestically, it received strong support and close to full funding while internationally, it has received strong support from allies. However, controversy over the NPR may be just around the corner. There needs to be strong bipartisan commitment to nuclear infrastructure and delivery system modernization as well as arms control.
The United States has upheld a moratorium on nuclear testing since 1992, but numerous voices have emerged in recent years to urge a resumption of nuclear tests. William Caplan argues the U.S. should not forfeit its nonproliferation credibility and risk starting a string of nuclear tests that threatens the nuclear order.
Some legislators have pushed to restrict the president from launching preemptive nuclear strikes without the authorization of Congress. While proponents of congressional authorization hope that it will reduce tensions, it will only serve to increase the risks of accidental or inadvertent escalation.
New and more accessible forms of dialogue will be critical to the conversation on nuclear policy. Social media and other personalized communication tools, which have thus far remained mostly outside the nuclear policy toolbox, are an important part of outreach. President-elect Trump’s administration must use these new tools wisely and with discretion to share a message that speaks to allies, adversaries, and Americans at home.
United States nuclear deterrent forces has been the bedrock of U.S. national security. The U.S. needs a modern, flexible, and adaptable nuclear enterprise suited to the deterrence challenges of the 21st century and yet current forces are outdated. This paper provides several changes to consider as the new administration conducts a nuclear review.