Will deploying low-grade nuclear weapons make nuclear war more likely?

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed in December by a vote of 477 to 36 allows deployment of the “low yield” W 76-2 (5-7 kilotons) tactical nuclear warhead. They will be added to the Trident II D5 ballistic missiles carried by the Kitsap-Bangor Trident submarines on Hood Canal in Puget Sound about 20 miles northwest of Seattle and the Kings Bay, Ga., base on the east coast. The missiles presently carry some combination of large strategic warheads – the W76-1 (100 kilotons) and the W88 (455 kilotons). These Trident missiles are considered the chief U.S. deterrent against a surprise nuclear attack. The Navy claims Trident’s sole mission is “strategic deterrence.” Now the Trident will deploy some combination of all three sizes (5, 100, 455 kilotons) tactical and strategic weapons. Many nuclear experts, including high rank military officers, are alarmed that the addition of low-yield warheads will greatly increase the chances of a tense situation between the Russia and the U.S. evolving into a more dangerous conflict. Leonard Eiger, chair of the Communication and Outreach Committee of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action which has a center located near the Kitsap-Bangor base, has argued that if the U.S. were to launch a missile with a low-yield warhead at Russia, Russia would not be able distinguish it from one carrying a high-yield warhead and would likely launch a retaliatory attack with high-yield warheads leading to an unintended large-scale nuclear war.

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