New U.S. nuclear warhead deployment raises risks of nuclear use

The USS Tennessee. Photo: The Guardian.

The United States deployed a new type of nuclear warhead in December, according to a report by civil society analysts. The warhead is mounted on a submarine and has an explosive yield of 5 kilotonnes, one third the size of the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. This nuclear warhead, called the W76-2 by the United States, was ordered in 2018 in U.S. President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review.

The detonation of this type of nuclear warhead over a large city could have hundreds of thousands of casualties and lasting environmental impacts. But given the widespread perception of this weapon of mass destruction as a “small” or “low-yield” weapon, officials could be less hesitant to use it, for example, in response to a non-nuclear attack.

Tim Wright, the Treaty Coordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, called the move “an alarming development that heightens the risk of nuclear war.”

Later this year, states will gather to evaluate the success of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing nuclear arsenals in the past five years. It will be a moment to hold nuclear-armed states accountable for actions like the U.S. deployment of a new and dangerous nuclear warhead, which put the entire world at risk.