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Trump administration bolsters U.S. position against Russian nuclear threat

The Trump administration on Friday announced its new strategic nuclear weapons plan. (Chris Kleponis/Getty Images)

The Trump administration on Friday announced a new nuclear weapons policy designed to stave off the possibility of nuclear attacks, especially by Russia, China and North Korea.

A 74-page "nuclear posture review" released by the Pentagon calls for a more aggressive stance so that any nuclear attack — even a small one against the U.S. or its allies — would have dire consequences. In part, the report says that any North Korean nuclear attack would "end" North Korea's regime. Nuclear posture reviews are typically done at the start of any new presidential administration.

The report represents a departure from Obama's push to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"Like Obama, Trump would consider using nuclear weapons only in 'extreme circumstances,' while maintaining a degree of ambiguity about what that means. But Trump sees a fuller deterrent role for these weapons, as reflected in the plan to develop new capabilities to counter Russia in Europe," the report states.

Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette explained the strategy at a Pentagon news conference.

“Over the past decade, while the United States has led the world in these reductions, every one of our potential nuclear adversaries has been pursuing the exact opposite strategy," he said. "These powers are increasing the numbers and types of nuclear weapons in their arsenal.”

Among the concerns are what the U.S. calls Russia's aggression in Ukraine and violations of existing arms deals. Administration officials briefed Russian and Chinese officials Friday prior to the report's release, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Are there plans for new weapons?

Plans call for modifications to a "small" but undisclosed number of existing long-range ballistic missiles carried by Trident strategic submarines, according to published reports. Under the plan, the submarines will be fitted with smaller-yield nuclear warheads. John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, did not provide cost estimates or a specific timeline for the implementation of the plan, the Chicago Tribune reported. Rood added that the project is expected to be partially included in a 2019 budget being submitted to Congress later this month.

A longer-term plan calls for developing a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile. That re-establishes "a weapon that existed during the Cold War but was retired in 2011 by the Obama administration," according to the Chicago Tribune.

What criticisms were raised?

Arms control groups were quick to criticism the report, saying it counters past efforts to reduce nuclear weapons.

Alex Bell, an Obama administration leader and disarmament advocate at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told the Washington Post the announcement could set off a new nuclear arms race.

“You have a clear message to the world that this administration is not interested in leading global efforts to reduce nuclear threats,” Bell said.

One last thing…
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