A new, so-called “low-yield”, nuclear warhead, known as the W76-2, has been deployed and is currently out at sea somewhere in the Atlantic, on board the USS Tennessee, part of the US Navy’s Trident ballistic missle submarine fleet. Details regarding this extremely worrying development were reported on 29 January 2020 in an article by William Arkin and Hans Kristensen, published by the Federation of American Scientists.
This marks a disturbing return to the old Cold War thinking and strategy which includes planning for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in war fighting.
The US Congress has failed miserably on every level to control this weapon from being rolled out and America’s allies need to pressure the US to pull back from this dangerous and damaging weapon deployment. The production of the weapon was occurring while the House was debating if it should be deployed and by the time they made a decision, the weapon had already been deployed. The speed at which this new nuclear weapon was produced is unprecedented. This is the first new nuclear weapon to be deployed by the United States since the end of the cold war. It is reported that production of this new nuclear warhead will continue until 2024, at a state owned factory outside Amarillo Texas.
Previously the US Pentagon gave Trump a number of options regarding actions allegedly undertaken by the Iranian government. Assassinating Qasem Soleimani was one of those options, supposedly lowest on the list. What would Trump do when his generals slip the option of launching a small tactical nuclear weapons into the response list? Against say Iran, North Korea, or other nation or group?
Worryingly, Trump already authorized the use of the MOAB in Afghanistan in 2017, which had the explosive power of a low yield nuclear weapon without the radiation.
The W76-2 goes to the heart of the issues of No First Use which all NATO members need to push the US to adopt now that it has fielded a first strike nuclear weapon.
The warhead is mounted on a submarine launched missile and has 5-7 kilotons of TNT equivalent explosive yield, which is about one third the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The W76-2’s explosive power would completely destroy about a 20 block area in a dense city and leave it irradiated. This nuclear warhead was ordered in 2018 in U.S. President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, but was placed on the USS Tennessee and sent to sea at the height of recent tensions between Iran and the US.
The perception within the US military that this warhead is “small” or “low-yield” could, or maybe already has, led officials to be less hesitant about the possibility of using it, for example, in response to a non-nuclear attack.
Starting in April 2020, governments will gather at the United Nations in New York to evaluate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at a Review Conference, and consider the Treaty’s ability to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and assess its ability to reduce nuclear arsenals during the past five years since the last Review in 2015. It should become a moment to hold nuclear-armed states accountable for their actions, in particular destabilizing ones such as the recent U.S. deployment of a new and dangerous nuclear warhead.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has labeled the deployment of this nuclear weapon “an alarming development that heightens the risk of nuclear war.” Canada, which could have produced a nuclear weapon, but whose governments has said it will never do so, and which has a policy of supporting and promoting nuclear non-proliferation, must urgently engage the United States to reverse this reckless act which makes the world a more dangerous place.