2018 Nuclear Posture Review: Cold War Redux!

The 2018 United States Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is out, and there is much conversation surrounding it. The new NPR is, of course, more formal justification for the U.S. to continue the status quo of being the world’s dominant nuclear power. Yet, beyond the status quo, this NPR contains new and dangerously destabilizing developments in U.S. nuclear weapon planning and policy.

The press conference announcing the release of the 2018 NPR was a classic study in Doublespeak.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan set the (Orwellian) stage by saying, “To the American people, this administration’s highest priority is your safety and security.”

He further stated that, “Every day at DOD we ask, how can we give our diplomats leverage so that they can always speak from a position of strength? The National Defense Strategy directly supported by the 2018 NPR is our answer.”

Shanahan finished his intro by saying that, “The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear policy is deterrence, and continues our clear commitment to non-proliferation and arms control… Modernization is necessary, affordable, and long overdue.”

Where to begin? Well, to start, there is absolutely no “safety” or “security” in our reliance on nuclear weapons as tools of foreign policy. Our nation’s continuing reliance on, and modernization of, our nuclear weapons forces, coupled with our failed (military-centered) foreign policy around the world has only served to increase the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and thereby decrease both safety and security of not only the U.S., but the entire world.

The very statement that “we give our diplomats leverage,” and tying that leverage to nuclear weapons is an obvious admission that nuclear weapons are a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy. And although nuclear weapons have, since their inception, been at the heart(lessness) of our foreign policy, the Trump administration has taken it to a new high (or low, depending on how you see it) with the gutting of the State Department that is massively overshadowed by a bloated Pentagon.

As for “modernization” being “necessary, affordable, and long overdue,” let’s look at that more carefully.

Modernization would not be “necessary” had the U.S. changed its posture toward the Soviet Union once the Berlin Wall fell and we were handed the “Peace Dividend.” We desperately held on to our nuclear weapons, and quickly found a new cause to pump dollars into the Military-Industrial Complex – the War On Terror.

As for affordability, the massive investment (currently estimated at $1.7 trillion, adjusted for inflation) in the U.S. nuclear weapon program over three decades will be a major theft from programs necessary to take care of human needs at home and overseas, while making weapons makers far richer than ever. And ultimately, humanity cannot afford the risk of the unspeakable – nuclear war that could end civilization as we know it, and possibly cause human extinction.

As Pentagon and State Department spokespersons said at the NPR announcement, Russia figures prominently in the 2018 NPR. We are moving quickly into a posture very much like that of the previous Cold War. And this newly developing Cold War is shaping up to be much more tenuous than the previous one (if that is possible). With the huge numbers of nuclear weapons currently deployed by both the U.S. and Russia, a nuclear war between the two nations would certainly be the END!

The Executive Summary of the 2018 NPR states (on Page 1) that: “It [the United States] has reduced the nuclear stockpile by over 85 percent since the height of the Cold War and deployed no new nuclear capabilities for over two decades… While the United States has continued to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction. They have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyber space.”

Our fact checker gives this a “pants on fire” rating. While the U.S. has technically reduced the total number of warheads since the height of the Cold War, the vast majority of these weapons were outdated and did not fit with current nuclear strategy. The weapons remaining, for the most part, are the pre-eminent weapons involved in threatening Russia, which we never stopped doing after the Cold War.

The majority of the remaining warheads are fielded on our Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs, also known as “Minuteman”) and Submarine Launched “Trident” Ballistic Missiles.

As for modernization being “long overdue,” that is laughable. Modernization was already made a certainty by the Obama administration. And, as evidenced by Trident, the U.S. certainly has developed new nuclear capabilities, thus countering the false statement in the 2018 NPR that the U.S. has developed “no new nuclear capabilities.”

Just last year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists blew the lid off what the US government has euphemistically called it’s “Life Extension Program” for the W76 thermonuclear warhead deployed on the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The article, “How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze,” shows how the US military, under the guise of what it calls a “life-extension program” – allegedly intended to increase safety and reliability of nuclear warheads – has vastly increased the ability of warheads to detonate closer to their intended targets.

Specifically the heart of the rebuilt W76 and its increased kill capacity is the new MC4700 arming, fuzing and firing system. This new system essentially gives the W76 capabilities it never had before; that is the capability to hit hardened targets – specifically Russian ICBM silos – with three times greater accuracy than before. If that’s not a “new nuclear capability,” then I don’t know what is!

The development and deployment of the “super-fuze” was a huge development that has only served to drive the Russians to work for nuclear parity (or superiority), thereby seriously undermining strategic stability and increasing the risk of nuclear war.

In addition, the very planning and development of the Navy’s new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, the Columbia Class, which has been in the works for a number of years, is, at very least, a vastly improved nuclear capability.

Of all the crazy ideas in the 2018 NPR, and there are a few, the most insane of all is the plan to field a low-yield warhead on the Trident II D5 missiles deployed on the OHIO Class “Trident” ballistic missile submarine fleet. This would be done by modifying the existing W76 warhead to reduce its explosive yield. Of course, Trident was designed for one purpose – to threaten the Soviet Union with total annihilation (and with a definite first-strike capability). Mixing low-yield and high-yield warheads on Trident (a new capability) makes absolutely no strategic sense and changes Trident’s mission significantly.

There is so much more to say about the 2018 NPR, but for now, I think it safe to say that it is deeply troubling on every level. It signals a return to a dangerous Cold War mentality and introduces new, destabilizing concepts (such as low-yield warheads on Trident).

Ultimately, the 2018 NPR pays lip service to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and denigrates the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. Ironically, Article VI of the NPT, which states that, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control,” is not even on the radar here.

As the U.S. accuses other nations – notably Russia, Iran and North Korea – of violating various treaty obligations, it would do well to look in the mirror. It is not a pleasant vision, yet it is one that we avoid at our own, and the world’s, peril.

Humanity cannot afford another Cold War.

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U.S. Nuclear Posture: Bringing Us Closer to the Brink

The draft 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was leaked earlier this month. A new NPR is issued every four years, and essentially paves the way for our nation’s continuing reliance on nuclear weapons. Presidents have used the NPR to implement their individual nuclear weapons agendas, and in the case of President Trump, we’re talking about a guy who seems to want a lot more nukes. Although much of what the 2018 draft NPR says is not particularly groundbreaking, it makes at least one very troubling (and downright wacky) recommendation. Read on to learn more.


The 2018 draft NPR drops quite the bombshell (no pun intended) when it calls for essentially changing up the mission of the nation’s ballistic missile submarines (in a dangerous way).

“…in the near-term, the United States will modify a small number of existing SLBM [Trident] warheads to provide a low-yield option…”

One argument for this approach (in the 2018 draft NPR) is that the U.S. “will not require or rely on host nation support to provide deterrent effect.” This would appear to be a way to hedge our bets against other nations currently hosting our tactical nuclear weapons, in case they change their minds and tell us to remove them.

Arming a “strategic” weapon like the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile is an extremely dangerous recommendation. Currently, the D5 missile carries either (or both) the W76 (100 kiloton yield) or W88 (475 kiloton yield) thermonuclear-armed warhead. Either one is a dramatic contrast to a low-yield (likely no more than 10 kiloton) “tactical” warhead.

In a time of crisis, an adversary would not be able to distinguish the different incoming warheads, although they could detect a launch and know it was launched from a submarine. A nation under attack by warheads from any D5 missile, would have to assume the worst case scenario – a full-scale attack – and that would likely trigger full-scale (nuclear) retaliation.

It is mind-boggling that this idea ended up in the 2018 draft NPR. I would expect nuclear weapons experts to be shaking their heads and asking if the person, or persons, who came up with this idea came from a psychiatric ward.


The 2018 draft NPR says that, “The COLUMBIA program will deliver a minimum of 12 SSBNs to replace the current OHIO fleet and is designed to provide required deterrence capabilities for decades.

This is clearly paving the way to build more than the 12 submarines called for in the current plan, and that would be nothing more than a make-work program for the weapons makers. Some experts, such as Plowshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione, have called for fewer than 12 New Tridents.

As Cirincione says, “If you just need this to be a deterrent force, to respond in case someone is crazy enough to actually attack the United States and thereby deter them from ever doing that, well, you really could be talking about four, five, six nuclear submarines, each of which would have 16 missile tubes, each of which would carry five or six warheads. That’s a lot of nuclear weapons.”

Of course, if even one of those Trident submarines launched all of its nuclear-armed missiles, that would be way more than enough nuclear firepower – in addition to the immediate and near-term deaths – to cause billions of deaths due to famine caused by the effects on agriculture and food supplies.


The 2018 draft NPR confirms what many already know – the Navy, in addition to building a new submarine, is also planning on “the timely replacement of the D5 SLBM.” The current D5 missile is undergoing what the government calls a “life extension” that will allow it to be deployed until 2042. The Navy plans to begin studies in 2020 on a replacement that will be viable for the life of New Trident.


The 2018 draft NPR continues to tout Trident as “the most survivable leg of the Triad” – the Triad being ballistic missile submarines, land-based missiles, and bombers. Under the U.S.-Russia New START treaty signed in 2010, roughly 70-percent of U.S. nuclear warheads either are or will be deployed on Trident.

It also states that Trident is “at present, virtually undetectable, and there are no known, near-term credible threats to the survivability of the SSBN force.” And while saying that the U.S. will “hedge against the possibility” of advances in anti-submarine warfare that could threaten Trident in the future,” the draft NPR demonstrates some concern about how this could affect the “survivability” of Trident in the future.

“In coming decades, advances in adversary anti-submarine warfare and missile defense capabilities could challenge the effectiveness of current SSBN and SLBM systems.” The British American Security Information Council has researched and written extensively on the risks posed to Trident by rapidly emerging technologies, including unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and hacking. Trident is, by no means, invulnerable to future threats.

Essentially, the NPR is saying that the Navy is preparing to build a new generation of ballistic missile submarines based on today’s threats. With today’s rapid advances in technology, it is highly likely that New Trident will face vulnerabilities right out of the starting gate, and that those threats will continually evolve.


Aside from the impacts on Trident, the draft 2018 NPR clearly demonstrates that the U.S. government is dead set on perpetuating the Doomsday Machine (the title of Daniel Ellsberg’s new book). It is set to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into what is essentially the machinery of our nuclear extinction. It is the continuation of over seven decades of such preparation.

There is, of course, no meaningful discussion of the use of diplomacy and conflict resolution, nor is there any mention of our obligations toward disarmament stemming from our participation in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But we shouldn’t expect any of that in a document that is only intended to promote our nation’s continued reliance on nuclear weapons as the ultimate tools of foreign policy.

At very least, we need to raise the alarm about the 2018 draft NPR and its potential consequences. At a time of great geopolitical instability, we cannot be creating new controversy and building tensions. This NPR, with its mad talk of deploying low-yield warheads on Trident, serves to further destabilize already delicate and deteriorating relations with Russia, and possibly other nuclear-armed nations.

I trust we can use this new NPR to generate a public dialogue on just why we need to (or need not) continue the same course as the last (nearly) quarter century. The NPR uses fear as its driving force, citing the dangers posed by Russia (and China, among others), and yet it is the U.S. and Russia that must lead the world away from the false security of nuclear weapons. We keep driving each other deeper into the nuclear abyss, and at some point one or the other has to reach out a hand and say “ENOUGH!” There is no security in nuclear weapons, and they should, therefore, have no place in U.S. national security strategy.


Physicians for Social Responsibility has come together with other organizations to ask the United States to make nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of national security policy. In a joint resolution – Back from the Brink: A Call to Prevent Nuclear War – the groups call on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

  • renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first
  • ending the president’s sole, unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack
  • taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
  • canceling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons;
  • actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action has endorsed the resolution and, if you are a part of any organization – civic group, professional association, faith community, university, or municipality – we invite you to become an endorser too. Help us build a groundswell for abolition. Future generations depend on us!

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When will we learn the lesson of war?

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was written by Ground Zero member Marianne Mabbitt, and published in the Kitsap Sun on September 19, 2017. 

Sunday’s opening episode of the new Ken Burns documentary airing on PBS this week, “The Vietnam War,” exposed some history of Vietnam that was never common knowledge in the United States.
Most Americans knew that it was once called French Indonesia and that the French had a long embattlement and defeat in Vietnam. However, most of us never read of Hoh Chi Min’s experiences in the United States and England, or that he’d written letters to American presidents expressing his values as similar to many in the U.S. Constitution: of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, of freedom and independence. That was his goal for the people of Vietnam. Five American presidents, from Truman through Nixon, stated at one time or another their aversion to war there, and yet it continued.
The documentary reviews the horrors of war, the waste of lives and resources, the humiliation of our televised defeat after so long a struggle and the agony survivors endured and still do today. We are repeating similar painful experiences in the Middle East, the United States having been in Afghanistan for over 14 years with no end in sight.

Certainly, we as Americans have doubts about our mission and effectiveness in fighting foreign wars and we are tired of these unending wars that squander the lives and talents of our servicemen and women. The money, technology, research and energy should be redirected to life sustaining projects. The enormous tax dollars we spend on the military budget is obscene compared to the budget of our social programs needed at home such as schools, housing, energy, transportation, agriculture and preserving natural resources. The legislators and corporations that make up the war machine continue to lie to us so they can continue to rake in huge profits.

Various pieces of the military industrial complex are in every state in our nation. We are told we must keep supporting them for the jobs they provide us. But the money is siphoned from programs we need, from jobs we’d rather be doing that are constructive to our own society, not destructive to others. In the end, we are the ones we destroy as well. We bring home the guerrilla military tactics, the weapons, the nightmares and violence. The United States continues to escalate the level of violence in our own land in our media, in our schools, our games, our sports, on our streets and in our homes. “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”

When will we learn that war only begets more wars? When will we deny the war machine our tax dollars and demand that we build up our own nation again? Democracy demands an informed electorate to vote rationally but we have so limited our real news sources and dumbed down our schools that the future looks very bleak for the youth of the United States. Who is paying attention to the next war on the horizon?

Resist a first strike of North Korea! We must resist the litany of atrocities committed in our name in any country. Today we are on the brink of another war with North Korea. This one involves a nuclear weapons exchange that could annihilate the earth’s atmosphere as we know it. The planet cannot withstand any more nuclear explosions. Tell your representatives to support the Senate bill, ‘Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017.’ It requires Congress to authorize nuclear weapons strikes rather than the President alone. We must stop the cycle of violence our country imposes on others and on ourselves.

We must stop the bleeding and bind our wounds. We must dialogue and plan for the near future and envision a country that believes and ACTs towards liberty and justice for all. If not now, when? If not us, who will do it? If we don’t act, will we even be here after a nuclear war North Korea?

M.G. Mabbitt lives in Silverdale.

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Paddling for Peace on the Hood Canal

By Elizabeth Murray

Paddling against the backdrop of a pristine Olympic Peninsula coastal forest framed by the jagged Olympics on one side — and a pair of pitch-black Trident nuclear submarines moored at Naval Base Kits on the other — roughly a dozen kayaktivists plied the Hood Canal last Saturday, joined by fellow nuclear resisters on speedboats and even a wooden rowboat to form a small, colorful and defiant flotilla in the second annual “Boats by Bangor” organized by the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

The nuclear resisters, whose waterborne action was part of the Ground Zero Center’s annual program commemorating of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima the Bangor base at Old Bangor, with the permission and support of local property owners. The protest boats hoisted signs such as “Resist Trident; No New Nukes” and other similarly-themed messages.

The two Explosives Handling Wharves are in the background.

Once under way, the flotilla proceeded past the pair of Trident nuclear submarines at the Bangor Delta Pier (which posts in very large letters: “Use of Deadly Force Is Authorized”), and further north to the first and second Explosives Handling Wharves before turning around. Coast Guard and Naval Base Security vessels followed and closely monitored the “Boats by Bangor” procession, but did not interfere with the jolly band of resisters.

“The anti-nuclear message of ‘Boats by Bangor’ is especially urgent in the wake of heightened tensions with North Korea and Russia,” said Elizabeth Murray, member-in-residence at the Ground Zero Center’s Poulsbo-based headquarters which shares a border fence with Naval Base Kitsap.

“The slightest political misunderstanding — not to mention technical mistake or human error involving Trident — has the potential to provoke a chain reaction leading to nuclear war and the annihilation of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of innocent people,” Murray said.

Naval Base Kitsap hosts eight of the US Navy’s 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines as well as an underground nuclear weapons storage facility. Collectively, they are believed to store more than 1,300 nuclear warheads, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Naval Base Kitsap hosts the largest single concentration of nuclear warheads not only in the United States, but most likely in the world.

The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action has been a constant presence in the area since 1977, advocating an end to nuclear weapons and the eventual transformation of the base into a facility that can be used for peaceful productivity, such as the example of Greenham Common in England, which formerly hosted US nuclear weapons, and has been repurposed into public parkland and a business park.
The Ground Zero Center holds three major actions per year — on Martin Luther King Day, Mother’s Day, and Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing anniversaries. The events are free and open to the public.

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We Face Bigger Challenges Than North Korea

Editor’s Note: The following commentary, written by Dr. David Hall, was originally published Saturday, July 8, 2017 in the Everett Herald, heraldnet.com. Dr. Hall is an active member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

President Trump is getting tough. His budget calls for a $56 billion increase in military spending, to be funded by major cuts ranging from environmental protections to community block grants, on top of the already planned trillion dollar rebuild of the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Our president wants to freeze North Korea’s nuclear weapons program by threatening all-out war without starting a nuclear war. Everett may soon be within range of North Korean nuclear-armed missiles. But the threat these weapons pose to us is not the direct hit. The single use of a nuclear weapon anywhere could light the fuse to nuclear escalations no one can contain. This is the risk we live with every day.

It’s time to rethink deterrence. At the heart of deterrence doctrine for every nuclear armed nation lurks a continuous threat to incinerate whole countries, and these weapon systems steal vast human resources from programs of human betterment and environmental sustainability.

North Korea’s threats can escalate to war, or they can galvanize the global call to eliminate these horrific weapons. Even a “small” nuclear war could lead to worldwide famine. Nuclear nations must come together first of all to prevent any war. Then we must find common ground to eliminate this civilization-destroying threat. Bully tactics risk catastrophic escalation. Imagine facing U.S. military might from an adversary’s perspective.

Nuclear deterrence has worked since World War II to prevent any nuclear use. The threat of mass slaughter has kept national leaders from launching a suicidal nuclear strike. Recently, however, Russians are feeling the press of U.S. nuclear capabilities and U.S./NATO missile defenses near their borders. President Vladimir Putin has responded with nuclear threats against Europe and the United States.

Nuclear adversaries all fear U.S. nuclear weapons, especially the nuclear-armed Trident submarines that deploy from Hood Canal just 35 air miles from downtown Everett. We in Washington state are at the center of U.S. nuclear weapons threats to other countries. One Trident submarine can be loaded with nuclear firepower sufficient to block the sun and starve billions of people.

U.S. citizens must speak to these fundamental survival issues. Technologies to detect a nuclear attack are primitive in all the other nuclear nations. National leaders with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert have as little as ten minutes to decide if an incoming threat is real and who it comes from. Military commanders of nuclear weapons have emergency codes if their national leadership is decapitated. Unstable countries and unstable leaders now have command of nuclear weapons. Deterrence will not last forever.

Congress’s trillion-dollar plan to rebuild our entire nuclear weapon complex includes increasing the accuracy and hard-target kill capacity of our nuclear arsenal, which is driving a new nuclear arms race as dangerous as the Cold War arms race that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits the U.S. to search for an exit from this global game of chicken. The United States has by far the most powerful military in history. It’s on us to break out of the present stalemate. Our brinkmanship generals and many civilian leaders and contractors want war-fighting capabilities whatever the cost, even raising the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used.

Starting at home, and then with Russia, China and other nuclear nations, we need serious high-level conversations that honor our shared human need for security while celebrating our common humanity.

None of us can afford to let nuclear weapons destroy our common future.

Dr. David Hall is past president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. He lives on Lopez Island.



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