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Say WHAT? — A Case of Low-Yield Nuclear Thinking

  • Thomas Gaulkin
| Feb. 14, 2019

Can a small nuclear weapon really make the world safer?

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to the broad (and costly) modernization of the nuclear weapons complex. But it also introduced two new weapons, one of which, the W76-2, is rolling off the assembly line in Texas right now.

That so-called “low-yield” nuclear warhead may soon be carried on some or all of the 14 active US Navy nuclear ballistic submarines that form one leg of the nuclear deterrence triad (the two other legs are US Air Force bombers and ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles). Former Secretary of Defense Mattis told Congress last year, “I don’t think there is any such thing as a ‘tactical nuclear weapon.’ Any nuclear weapon used any time is a strategic game-changer.” And a long list of experts, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, say these kinds of “small” warheads increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used—and full-scale nuclear war will follow.

So why is the United States building them?

In this installment of “Say WHAT?”—the Bulletin video series that casts a clear eye on fuzzy policy—we ask nuclear weapons expert Sébastien Philippe what he thinks about the latest nuclear craze.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Gaulkin, Thomas. “Say WHAT? — A Case of Low-Yield Nuclear Thinking.” News, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 14, 2019.

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