Washington's latest Nuclear Posture Review imperils global security in three ways: it inflates perceived threats to the US, it conflates conventional and nuclear war and it pushes for the development of low-yield nuclear weapons.
These three new moments in US policy increase the risk of nuclear war rather than lowering it, as American Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed in signing off on the Nuclear Posture Review published last week.
Mattis states that the long-term goal of the US is the elimination of all nuclear weapons from the world -- but Washington has no intention of ever doing this. That's because US leaders never cease to view the world as a relentlessly threatening place, justifying a $1 trillion upgrade of the nation's nuclear arsenal.
The NPR states: "This review comes at a critical moment in our nation's history, for America confronts an international security situation that is more complex and demanding than any since the end of the Cold War."
Four specific threats are outlined: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
But what's perplexing is that so little credible detail is presented by the Pentagon to justify why it considers these four entities to be such dire threats, requiring greater US nuclear posturing.
In regard to Russia and China, the NPR asserts (on page 6): "Since 2010 we have seen the return of Great Power competition. To varying degrees, Russia and China have made clear they seek to substantially revise the post-Cold War international order and norms of behavior."
However, the Pentagon doesn't provide substantive detail on what this "revision of the international order" by Russia and China entails and why it should be considered by the US a grave security threat.
On Russia, the Pentagon claims: "Russia has demonstrated its willingness to use force to alter the map of Europe and impose its will on its neighbors, backed by implicit and explicit nuclear first-use threats... Its occupation of Crimea and direct support for Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine violate its commitment to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine."
Regarding China, Mattis states in the preface of the NPR that Beijing is "challenging traditional US military superiority in the western Pacific." Here, the Pentagon is referring to China's territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea.
These alleged transgressions by Russia and China are repeated throughout the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, as well as assertions that both countries have moved to "greater salience of deployment of nuclear forces."
What is disturbing is how the Pentagon has inflated specific local territorial disputes -- Ukraine and South China Sea -- to constitute somehow a "worsening global threat environment."
In the executive summary, the NPR states "global threat conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent 2010 NPR, including increasingly explicit nuclear threats from potential adversaries. The United States now faces a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before."
At a couple of brief points, the US NPR states that it does not want to have an adversarial relationship with either Russia or China, yet it repeatedly depicts both as a threat. This is consistent with two other documents recently published by the Trump administration -- the National Security Strategy, in December, and the National Defense Strategy (NDS), in January -- which again called out Russia and China as priority "rivals." The NDS indeed said Russia and China were now a bigger national security threat than non-state terrorism.