The United States tests new, smaller nuclear weapons

January 18, 2016

Last week, shortly after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s allegedly detonated an hydrogen bomb, the United States carried out a mock nuclear weapons test, on the new B61-12 over the Nevada desert.

The new addition to the US arsenal is a precision-guided, “smaller nuclear bomb”. It is a previously untested, modification designed to replace the existing B61 family, primarily deployed in five European countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey). The new bomb is equipped with maneuverable sensors, allowing it to target and destroy underground objects, and an adjustable yield, which could still create a blast of more than three times the size of the one that destroyed Hiroshima.

These ‘smaller’ and ‘smarter’ nuclear weapons risk making nuclear weapons more useable. Despite commitments to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security strategies, this increase in usability of the weapons is likely to increase their role, particularly in the NATO nuclear doctrine. James N. Miller, one of the US government officials who helped develop the modernisation plan said “Minimizing civilian casualties if deterrence fails is both a more credible and a more ethical approach.”, despite that the entire theory of nuclear “deterrence” is built on a claim that it cannot fail.

“This B61 model is a new nuclear weapon and a very worrying development.” Says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, “It could lower the threshold of use, and will increase tensions and risk of use when stationed in European NATO-bases. The risk of nuclear weapons use is already the highest since the end of the Cold War according to many experts, and these “smaller” nuclear weapons would still cause devastating humanitarian harm and unleash a nuclear war.’

The states wielding nuclear weapons believe they have the right to use a weapon with the capability to mass murder civilians, destroy cities, disrupt the climate, and threaten humanity’s survival. Building a “smaller” or “more precise” nuclear weapon is neither credible nor ethical. The nuclear weapon tests conducted by the DPRK and the US, and the ongoing development and modernization of the arsenals of all nuclear-armed states, underscore the inability of the current legal regime to prevent states from seeking, possessing, or modernising nuclear weapons.

“The only credible and ethical approach is to prohibit nuclear weapons for everyone, stop all modernisation programmes, and eliminate existing arsenals. The international community must take responsibility and prevent another nuclear arms race from happening by prohibiting nuclear weapons through a legally-binding international treaty. That is a practical, feasible, and effective way to help facilitate nuclear disarmament in the current context,” says Fihn.

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