The nuclear temptation


The Obama administration is preparing a new generation of tactical weapons that supposedly would give the U.S. the power to fight and win a war against Russia or China.

The weapon is called the B61 Model 12.  It is a precision-guided atomic missile, with a computer that can guide it to its target and a “dial-a-yield” feature that would control the size of the explosion.  It could be launched from bombers that also drop conventional bombs, creating uncertainty in the targeted enemy.

The argument for such weapons is that, being precise, they would be more effective militarily and result in loss of less innocent life.   The argument against is that, for this very reason, there is a greater danger they would be used.

The U.S. government and its allies are increasing their forces along the borders of both Russia and China, but it is unlikely that they were be a match for larger Russian and Chinese forces fighting in their own neighborhood.  But deployment of tactical nuclear weapons would not necessarily change that equation, because the Russian and Chinese military have their own weapons.

Both Russia and the USA are currently undergoing modernizations of their nuclear forces.  Modernization is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $30 billion a year—$1 trillion over 30 years.

Modernization does not, in and of itself, increase the threat of nuclear war.  If there are to be nuclear weapons at all, the machinery needs to be updated and replaced to avert the danger of an accidental explosion or accidental launch.

The development of battlefield-capable weapons, however, does increase the scope and likelihood of war.  But the greater mistake is a military buildup along the borders of Russia and China—two powerful nations that are not threatening the United States, but may be provoked into doing so.

Since the early days of the Cold War, American Presidents have found it hard to muster sufficient troops to realize their global aims.  The temptation has always been to use the threat of nuclear weapons as a replacement.  That is a temptation that must be resisted, because it leaves Presidents with the choice of humiliation or Armageddon.


As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy by William J. Broad and David Sanger for the New York Times.

The Pentagon’s New Nuclear Gravity Bomb by Ian Armstrong for Global Risk Insights.

Obama pledged to reduce nuclear weapons, then came this weapon by Len Ackland and Burt Hubbard for  the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Obama’s Russian Rationale for $1 Trillion Nuke Plan Signals New Arms Race by Alex Emmons for The Intercept.

US Pivot to Asia Poised to Enter Nuclear Phase by Peter Lee for China Matters.

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