Mini-nukes: Still a horrible and dangerous idea

By John Mecklin | September 19, 2018

If developed, a low-yield nuclear warhead for US submarine-launched ballistic missiles will increase the likelihood of nuclear war.

Perhaps the most dangerous weapons program the US government has recently pursued involves a low-yield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched nuclear missiles. The arguments against development of such “small nukes” are legion and overwhelmingly compelling. In fact, almost exactly one year ago, I laid out some of those arguments in an article headlined, “Mini-nukes: The attempted resurrection of a terrible idea.” And, I said then, don’t just take my word for it; read the analysis of Jim Doyle, a former longtime technical staffer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Simply put, the availability of “small” nuclear warheads increases the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used, and any use of nuclear weapons easily could (some experts might say “inevitably would”) lead to general nuclear war and the end of civilization.

In the last year, however, the Trump administration released a Nuclear Posture Review calling for development of a low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Congress subsequently passed a defense authorization act that includes money for the program, and another bill allocates millions in the Energy Department budget specifically for pursuit of the new warhead.

A group of congressional Democrats introduced bills in the House and Senate this week that would prohibit the Trump administration from following through on the low-yield submarine-launched nuke. As reported in The Hill, the congressmen made stirring and sensible comments in support of the small nuke ban. For instance, California Rep. Ted Lieu said, “There’s no such thing as a low-yield nuclear war. Use of any nuclear weapon, regardless of its killing power, could be catastrophically destabilizing. It opens the door for severe miscalculation and could drag the US and our allies into a devastating nuclear conflict.”

Lieu and his colleagues (and the many military leaders who oppose, for all sorts of intelligent reasons, a sub-launched mini-nuke) are right. Just the same, there is essentially zero chance the bill banning that low-yield warhead will even be considered in the current Republican-controlled Congress. But politics change over time. It would be good for the country and the world if major news media focused prominently on the extreme danger this low-yield nuclear warhead program poses. The risk of that program is not theoretical, and the result, if such weapons are developed and fielded, could be truly catastrophic. The more people become aware of the threat that mini-nukes pose to them, their children, and the planet, the more likely that this mistaken program can be defunded and put back on the shelf of bad ideas, where it belongs and should stay.


Publication Name: The Hill
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peter mcloughlin
5 years ago

Mini-nukes show up the limitations of Deterrence doctrine, a strategy for the Cold War not the crisis we are in now. It is arguable that Deterrence worked in the period 1945-1991: but not today. We are living in an increasingly unstable world. The theory can no longer prevent the scenarios where Mutual Assured Destruction will be resorted to. We will soon face the scenario that (unlike the Cuban missile crisis) one protagonist will not be able to step back from the brink, blindly stumbling into a situation they cannot de-escalate. Syria is an example of how close we are. Yet… Read more »

bRad bUsch
bRad bUsch
5 years ago

Not just that the smaller warheads increase likelihood of their use, but that they become practical for sabatoge

Wayne Wenzel
Wayne Wenzel
5 years ago

If the US makes mini nuclear warheads, other countries will make them too — also for submarines and planes, that can be lost at sea. And so the nightmare scenario of a terrorist with a “suitcase nuke” gets closer. This goes beyond the concern that “rational” nations might let a demagogue come to power who deludes the people into thinking they can win a tactical nuclear missile conflict. Like the famous movie line goes: “Some people just want to watch the world burn.”

Huey. P. Neutron
Huey. P. Neutron
5 years ago
Reply to  Wayne Wenzel

“…a demagogue come to power who deludes the people into thinking they can win a tactical nuclear missile conflict.”
A demagogue like Ronald Reagan?
He thought a nuclear war was “winnable”.
Doddering old fool that he was.


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