Editorial: U.S. aim to promote small nuclear weapons is a betrayal of the international community

The United States has reportedly included the aim of promoting the development and deployment of small nuclear weapons in the Nuclear Posture Review, which the Trump administration is now formulating.

In the wake of North Korea’s ongoing efforts to launch missiles and test its nuclear arms, while at the same time ignoring continuous criticism from the international community, it seems that the United States is seeking to flex its own nuclear muscles. But responding with nuclear weapons to the threat posed by another nation’s nuclear arsenal will only escalate the nuclear arms race.

Nuclear weapons are inhumane and the people of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, who know the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons first-hand, can never condone any kind of development or deployment of these weapons. And the same stance is now reflected in the mainstream thinking of the international community.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, who sought to uphold the ideal of creating a world without nuclear weapons, pursued a path toward this goal during his eight years in office, which began in 2008. While nuclear abolition has never been an easy goal, he pushed for a review of U.S. nuclear policy and demonstrated this stance to the international community under his administration. For this reason alone, the position adopted by the Trump administration can be considered a betrayal.

As president, Mr. Trump has shown an eagerness to revamp and strengthen the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It seems that he is intent on including the mini-nukes program in the Nuclear Posture Review and enhancing America’s nuclear might.

Compared to existing nuclear weapons, those smaller in size, which have a yield of a few kilotons, are said to localize the damage from their use. In this way, they are deemed “usable” nuclear arms. This outrageous notion is utterly unacceptable.

The power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons, which is substantially less than the power of the nuclear weapons held today by the nuclear-armed states. That said, the Hiroshima A-bomb still claimed the lives of scores of people by the end of 1945, and has forced the survivors to suffer from the ongoing effects of their exposure to the radioactive fallout released by the bomb. These facts must never be forgotten.

The United States also considered developing mini-nukes in the wake of the terrorist attacks that took place in that nation on September 11, 2001. But the development of these weapons, during the administration of George W. Bush, was met by strong opposition in Congress. While it is unclear whether this small nuclear weapons program can eventually be added to the Nuclear Posture Review, continuing support for the idea, in light of tensions between the United States and North Korea, makes the fate of this plan unpredictable.

It is true that North Korea’s nuclear development program now looms as the largest threat to global security. This past July, North Korea launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) on two occasions. And the Defense Intelligence Agency announced in August that its analysis reveals that North Korea has succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads to a size where they could be mounted onto a missile.

The United States, however, is already a nuclear superpower and if it decides to accelerate the development and deployment of its nuclear arms, with the view that North Korea poses a threat, Russia and China will inevitably oppose this U.S. action and the result will be a significant rise in tensions in East Asia.

Although the United States should be making an effort to reduce its nuclear arsenal, it is instead promoting its own nuclear development while, at the same time, calling for North Korea to denuclearize. Such a policy is unpersuasive.

Mr. Trump has attacked the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, in personal terms and stirred up hostile feelings. Furthermore, in response to the public assurances of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has said he was seeking to make contact with North Korea and explore ways to encourage dialogue, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that this approach was a waste of time.

Mr. Trump’s behavior risks inflaming Mr. Jong-un’s anger. What is important here is eliminating nuclear weapons, not pushing a policy of deterrence based on fear. To that end, rather than threatening North Korea with America’s military might, Mr. Trump should instead be seeking a more trusting relationship with North Korea through dialogue, even if this would take time.

Meanwhile, Tokyo’s response to the Trump administration is questionable. Even though Japan is the only A-bombed country in the world, it has never criticized Mr. Trump for his provocative behavior and his stance toward relations with North Korea. In an interview after he announced his decision to dissolve the Lower House, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that he would seek the support of voters to apply more pressure on North Korea. Mr. Abe should again seriously ponder the risks of Japan’s involvement with the United States, which may be in the process of betraying the abolition wishes of the international community.

(Originally published on October 3, 2017)