While hypocritically opposing countries such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran, that stand against imperialism and which either feel compelled to develop nuclear weapons for their self-defence, or simply pursue a civil nuclear energy programme, US imperialism is again flagrantly flouting its own obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) through its development of a new generation of miniaturised nuclear weapons.
Under the NPT, the five recognised nuclear powers are supposed to take steps to progressively reduce their own nuclear arsenals. Moreover, by developing and testing new types of miniature precision nuclear bombs, the USA is increasing the danger and likelihood of nuclear assaults on non-nuclear countries. In fact, the US move could not provide a more eloquent justification for the DPRK’s just stand of developing a powerful, self-reliant nuclear deterrent. Moreover, it considerably increases the likelihood of a renewed arms race with both Russia and China.
According to the Times newspaper:
“The White House is overseeing the development of the new kind of weapon – a nuclear bomb that will be more accurate than previous ones and have four levels of destructive power which can be altered to control collateral damage and radioactive fallout.”
Whilst the idea of developing nuclear weapons, generally considered to be the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, that are somehow “kinder and gentler” than a previous generation of nukes is more than slightly ridiculous, even the Times had to concede that the main aspect of this development was to make the prospect of nuclear war more likely:
“However, experts fear that the increased sophistication of the new weapon increases the chances of it being used.”
The paper quotes General James Cartwright, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as telling the New York Times:
“What going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable. It makes the trigger easier to pull” (US mini nuclear bombs ‘risk new arms race’, 13 January 2016).
The first of these upgraded weapons, the B61-12 atomic bomb was successfully tested in Nevada last year. It is a modification of a Cold War-era weapon that was designed to be dropped from an aircraft, attached to a parachute. The new weapon is fitted with steerable fins, designed to guide it towards a target. The Pentagon plans to spend some $11 billion to produce 400 of these new weapons.
Besides the B61-12, the US is planning on producing four other upgraded atomic weapons at an estimated cost of $1 trillion.
It should be recalled that President Obama promised not to develop any new nuclear weapons during his time in office and to actively work towards disarmament. In a 2009 speech delivered in the Czech capital Prague, and which was cited as a significant factor in the obscene decision to award him the Nobel Peace Prize, he said that “the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons”.
A year later he signed a new strategic arms reduction treaty (START) with Russia, promising to reduce the number of US nuclear warheads from 1,900 to 1,550 by 2018. (For detailed background, see ‘US retains first-strike nuclear threat’, Proletarian, June 2010)
A key feature of the proposed new weapons, known as long-range stand-off (LRSO) missiles is that they update the cruise-missile technology of the tomahawks, first designed as a nuclear missile, but subsequently equipped with conventional warheads and used with devastating effect from the time of Gulf War I against Iraq 25 years ago.
Obama’s plans are meeting with opposition, or at least reservation, even from within the US imperialist ruling class. Last October, William Perry, who was defence secretary from 1994-97 and was in charge of developing the air-launched cruise missile during the late 1970s, and Andy Weber, who was assistant secretary of defence responsible for nuclear programmes for five year to 2014, called for saving $25 billion from the defence budget by cancelling the plans to build a fleet of 1,000 new air-launched nuclear missiles.
Their argument was that nuclear-armed cruise missiles are “a uniquely destabilising type of weapon”, because potential foes cannot tell whether they are being attacked with a missile carrying a conventional warhead or a nuclear one. The Economist magazine reported:
“Arms-control experts fear that the justifications from the Pentagon for the new missile, and for a highly accurate new nuclear bomb, suggest that cold-war doctrines, controversial at the time, such as escalation control and limited nuclear-war fighting, are being dusted off” (‘Cruise control’, 23 January 2016).
Even Hillary Clinton, generally considered to be more militaristic in her foreign policy than Obama, but clearly feeling under pressure from Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, when asked about the proposed new weapons while campaigning in Iowa, replied: “Yeah, I’ve heard about that. I’m going to look into that. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
But whatever the qualms or reservations expressed by some representatives of the US ruling class, unless stopped by revolution, US imperialism’s inexorable march towards a new world war against China and Russia will continue – and with that comes not only the inevitably of more wars against countries that dare to stand in the way of their war chariot but also the enhanced danger of ‘limited’ nuclear genocide.