Editorial: U.S. begins efforts to produce low-yield nuclear warhead

It was learned that the National Nuclear Security Administration, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy, has announced that the Trump administration has begun its efforts to produce a low-yield nuclear warhead.

The development of smaller-sized nuclear weapons was included in that nation’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the U.S. guidelines for its nuclear strategy that were articulated last February. With the aim of countering Russia’s nuclear development efforts, it has been thoughtlessly dubbed a “usable nuclear weapon.”

There is no doubt that a low-yield nuclear warhead would lower the bar of self-restraint for making use of nuclear weapons. This ambition is a historic act of folly that will bring us back to the Cold War era of a perilous and fruitless arms race. It is a move that must not be permitted.

Such action by the United States goes against international public opinion, which views any type of nuclear weapon as an “absolute evil” and is steadily putting pressure on the nuclear weapon states and their allies to change their nuclear policy. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the United Nations with the hope of realizing a world without nuclear arms, is being ratified by U.N. member states, one by one. It is only natural that the A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have denounced the U.S. aim with one voice, calling it “absolutely unacceptable.”

The United States and Russia have been trading accusations over the “threat” that each poses to the other. The United States has rebuked Russia, arguing that it has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and deployed newly developed missiles. On the other hand, Russia condemns the ballistic missile defense (BMD) system that the United States has deployed in Europe.

However, a different picture appears to the outsider’s eye. With the two nuclear superpowers unable to continue pouring money into their strategic nuclear arms, they made moves to reduce them using a convenient pretext: “a nuclear-free world.” But then, with the money they saved by cutting back on the costs of renewing their existing weapons, they have resumed their efforts to develop smaller nuclear arms and new types of missiles. We can’t permit the nuclear superpowers to carry on as they please.

The essence of the hideous idea of nuclear deterrence is that both countries maintain faith in a “balance of terror” that discourages the other from using a nuclear weapon. But what will happen to this world if we allow the advent of “usable nuclear weapons,” which will render human life worthless?

In fact, there is growing instability in the world since the United States released its last NPR. The trade war between the United States and China continues, with no end in sight, creating further friction. Iran makes no secret that it is pressing ahead with its ballistic missile program, arguing that it is necessary for the country’s defense, despite sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council, which prohibits Iran’s actions. Yesterday, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence presented the pessimistic view that “North Korea is unlikely to fully give up its nuclear weapons and production capacity.”

U.S. President Trump has been forced to go on the defensive due to inquiries into the possible collusion between the Trump team and Moscow. Behind his hard-line stance may be the ulterior motive of wishing to give the appearance that he is taking a more forceful stand toward Russia.

At the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe often includes words in his address like “the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack during wartime” or “I’d like to show empathy toward the A-bomb survivors.” He has also stated, in Diet debates, that Japan shares the same goal of nuclear abolition as the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

But Mr. Abe has not rejected the idea of smaller nuclear weapons as an “absolute evil.” Does he not recognize that the nuclear weapons ban treaty is the long-cherished desire of the A-bomb survivors?

Last year, Foreign Minister Taro Kono received criticism for his comments about the new NPR. In welcoming the NPR, he said that “the United States made clear its commitment to expanding nuclear deterrence to its allies” and “Japan highly appreciates it.” What Mr. Kono will say in reaction to this news is being closely watched.

As “the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack during wartime,” the Japanese government should clarify how it plans to persuade the nuclear-armed states and lead the international community in moving us toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on January 31, 2019)