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The New Nuclear Weapons

President Obama's lieutenants argue that smaller and more reliable nuclear weapons will make their use less likely--reasoning that doesn't make sense to me.

According to an article in The New York Times, the United States is planning smaller, more modern nuclear weapons. One of these is to be mounted on a steerable missile and the strength of the nuclear warhead can be adjusted for the task. The model is the first of five warhead types estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over thirty years.

The article says that President Obama’s lieutenants argue that smaller and more reliable nuclear weapons will make their use less likely, reasoning that doesn’t make sense to me. I believe that developing such flexible weapons will make their use more likely, as the weapons will fill niches not covered previously. General James Cartwright, a retired vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, agrees that “what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable.”

And Andrew Weber, a former assistant secretary of defense, said that “It’s unaffordable and unneeded.”

Of course, Russia and China are very much opposed to the new developments, and their opposition adds to nuclear tension and increases the possibility of a new arms race.

In 2009, in his first year in office, Mr. Obama pledged that he would take steps toward a nuclear-free world and “reduce the role of nuclear weapons.” The Nobel committee cited his pledge in awarding him the Peace Prize.

Mr. Obama is reversing his earlier position by increasing the role of nuclear weapons in his military arsenal. His new position is just plain wrong. We must oppose these misguided and dangerous weapons.


William Broad and David Sanger, “Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War,” The New York Times, Jan 11, 2016.

Don Lichtenberg

Don Lichtenberg retired after thirty years on the physics department faculty of Indiana University. He specialized in the area of theoretical physics.

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