With months of nuclear brinkmanship behind us, and with probably more to come, Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS), published last Monday, reflects the new belligerent direction.
He announces at the beginning of the review:
“When I came into office, rogue regimes were developing nuclear weapons and missiles to threaten the entire planet.”
His determination to build on the confrontational approach to North Korea is reflected in how many times the country is mentioned. Seventeen references to North Korea, compared with three times in Obama’s NSS in 2015.
The role of the United States’ own nuclear arsenal in US foreign policy is being upgraded. One noteworthy sign of that is the suggestion that nuclear weapons could be used in conventional battlefield scenarios, the threat of which, the strategy reports, would prevent “non-nuclear strategic attacks”:
“While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression”.
Further details on this point are expected in a Nuclear Posture Review to be published in the next few weeks. CND will report on this in the new year.
What else does he say?
“[Nuclear weapons] are the foundation of our strategy to preserve peace and stability by deterring aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners.”
“Significant investment is needed to maintain a U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure that is able to meet national security threats over the coming decades.”
“We must sustain a stockpile that can deter adversaries, assure allies and partners, and achieve U.S. objectives if deterrence fails.”
Trump also indicated in 2017 a persistent determination to break up the Iran nuclear deal, which is almost universally considered successful. Despite Iran not having a nuclear weapons programme, Trump has this to say in the NSS:
“[Iran] is developing more capable ballistic missiles and has the potential to resume its work on nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States and our partners.”
Not only does this undermine a real victory for diplomacy, but it seriously undermines the prospects for a diplomatic solution to the US – North Korea conflict. How can the US be viewed as a honest broker of peace when it backtracks on agreements in place with Iran? No doubt Pyongyang will have noticed too Trump’s highly provocative decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The direction of travel is alarming, so too is the pace. 2018 looks like a bumpy ride ahead. It’s therefore vital that our movement continues to respond.