The Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review: What does it mean for international relations?

By Luke Seifert

The Trump administration recently released the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which lays out their plan for nuclear armament within the U.S. While past reviews were dedicated to reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the new policies focus on maintaining and modernizing our nuclear weapons. The report states that “It is now clear that the United States must have sufficient research, design, development, and production capacity to support the sustainment and replacement of its nuclear forces.”

There are multiple reasons for this dramatic shift in policy. One reason is that other countries continue to develop their nuclear weapons programs, even as the U.S. shrinks its own. As the latest NPR notes:

“U.S. efforts to reduce the roles and numbers of nuclear weapons, and convince other states to do the same, have included reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile by over 85 percent since its Cold War high. Potential adversaries, however, have expanded and modernized their nuclear forces.”

The future of international nuclear armament policy is uncertain. The Trump administration must beware of expanding nuclear forces in China, Russia, and North Korea. In addition, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities will end in 2031, which would allow Iran to begin expanding its nuclear forces as well. If the US is building up its own arsenal, it may embolden Iran to do the same once the JCPOA ends.

However, the Trump administration can’t just react to potential threats. The newest NPR will affect previous international agreements. Lisbeth Gronlund writes on The Union of Concerned Scientists blog that, “While claiming that the United States ‘continues to abide by its obligations’ under the NPT [Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons], the NPR ignores the US obligation to take effective measures toward nuclear disarmament.” Considering Dr. Gronlund’s point, maybe nuclear rearmament isn’t the best idea.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is in a difficult position. Taking into account the nuclear armaments of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, the NPR suggests that expanding nuclear capabilities is the best solution, because previous attempts to dissuade other countries from expanding their nuclear arsenals, which involved the U.S. reducing its stockpiles, have been unsuccessful. But this will likely cause diplomatic negotiations with other countries concerning nuclear reduction to become more difficult. What authority does the U.S. have to tell another country to reduce its nuclear arsenal, if it’s bolstering its own? On the other hand, if the U.S. continues shrinking its nuclear arsenal, we may become unable to properly deter other countries from utilizing nuclear weapons. It remains to be seen whether the policies proposed in the NPR are successful in navigating this complex dilemma.

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