Nuclear war fears rise as US ‘rehearses’ missile strike on Russia with mini-nuke

Nuclear war is now a more likely prospect than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis – and the US has prepared for just this with a rehearsed "mini-nuke" strike against Russia .

Governments of all the major world powers have shied away from using nuclear weapons because any strike would be likely prompt rapid escalation into a full nuclear exchange.

But a military exercise by the US earlier this week allowed commanders to think the unthinkable.

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper took part in the “mini exercise” in which commanders rehearsed a “limited” nuclear strike against Russia. It’s unusual for such a senior politician to take part in a military exercise like this.

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The exercise, which took place at Strategic Command in Nebraska, war-gamed a scenario where Russia had attacked a target in Europe.

The US response involved the use of a “limited” nuclear retaliation although both target and the precise weaponry used remains secret.

A senior Pentagon official, who asked not to be named, gave National Defense a limited outline of the exercise,.

They said: “They attacked us with a low-yield nuclear [warhead], and in the course of the exercise we simulated responding with a nuclear weapon.”

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A Ministry of Defence spokesperson refused to confirm or deny any UK involvement in the exercise.

The limited-response scenario may well have involved the Pentagon’s new low-yield nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the W76-2.

More than one critic has said that by lowering the power of nuclear weapons, the Pentagon is making the threat of a nuclear exchange more likely.

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"The administration's decision to deploy the W76-2 warhead remains a misguided and dangerous one. The deployment of this warhead does nothing to make Americans safer," Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association advocacy group, described the W76-2 as “a dangerous solution in search of a problem".

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The USS Tennessee – which left port in Georgia at the end of last year – is already on patrol armed with the W76-2 warhead.

The weapon has an explosive yield of five kilotons, less then the the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima and considerably lower than massive warheads on other US submarine-launched ballistic missiles which can range up to 450 kilotons.

The Trump administration has said that the new mini-nuke could be used as a response to: “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.”

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Kate Hudson, general secretary of CND, told Daily Star Online: “ Donald Trump famously asked a foreign policy expert in 2016, why can’t the US use nuclear weapons? This marriage of an unpredictable and belligerent president to these new so-called ‘usable’ nuclear weapons is a marriage made in hell.

"Nuclear weapons have conventionally been promoted as a 'deterrent’.

"One state’s nuclear weapons, so the argument goes, deter other states from using their nuclear weapons because both sides will bear huge costs if they are used.”

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She added: "Trump’s new low-yield 'usable' weapons move away from this approach and he has increased the number of circumstances in which nuclear weapons could be used.

"His new policy says nuclear weapons could be used against a group that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or employ nuclear devices, as well as against significant non-nuclear strategic attacks, including attacks on civilian population or infrastructure."

“So low-yield nuclear weapons make nuclear use far more likely. If they are used, they will almost inevitably trigger escalation to high-yield nukes. Millions of people could perish.”

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Even if the weapons are never used, they will still be incredibly costly.

An aggressive modernisation program within the US military has an estimated budget of over a trillion dollars.

A Pentagon source described that as “affordable” saying: “You’ve heard a lot about a $1.3 trillion triad … [but] that’s over 30 years.”

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Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, says that this latest exercise could be as much about selling the new budget to the US Congress as for legitimate military purposes.

He said: “Remember, it’s only a few weeks ago that we had the official confirmation that this new low-yield warhead had been deployed,” he said.

“We’re now moving into a new budget phase where they have to go to Congress and try to justify the next new nuclear weapon that has a low-yield capability which is a sea-launched cruise missile. So all of this has been played up to serve that process.”

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But, he adds, the fact of the “limited” nuclear weapon’s existence “would be very beneficial to a military officer who was going to advise to the president whether we should cross the nuclear threshold”.

Potential targets for the mini-nuke could include unpredictable adversaries like North Korea and Iran as well as Russia.

This latest exercise moves the idea of a US nuclear strike from “unthinkable” to “entirely possible.”

  • Military
  • Missiles
  • Russia
  • Donald Trump

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