Skip to main content

Nuclear weapons — no matter the size — must never be used. This message is at the heart of FCNL’s work to stop the deployment of the so-called low-yield nuclear warheads on U.S. Navy submarines.

What is this new nuclear warhead that Congress is debating?

In 2018, the Trump administration requested production of a limited number of low-yield warheads that could be launched on the ballistic missiles used by U.S. submarines. It then authorized and funded their construction. These new warheads are expected to be deployed sometime this fall. Roughly 1,000 similar warheads are already deployed on American jets, in bombs, and cruise missiles.

Why are these weapons so dangerous?

The submarine-launched weapons are so dangerous because they are made to be used—and because they reduce reaction times before a potential adversary must decide whether to retaliate. A low-yield bomb is only slightly less powerful than the ones used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The very term “low-yield” is explicitly designed to tell policymakers that these nuclear weapons could be used, and society could survive nonetheless. That is an extremely dangerous idea.

What are we doing to stop it?

The persistent advocacy of FCNL’s advocates and our partners on this issue have been critical as we lobby members of Congress. In June, the House voted to cut funding for the nuclear weapons program by the exact amount that the Pentagon said it will cost to deploy the weapons. In July, the House included a provision in its initial version of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibiting the deployment of these warheads.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (WA-9) has made stopping the deployment of these weapons a priority.

What’s next?

The House votes are only the first steps. The House debate has largely fallen along party lines, and Republicans who control the Senate and the White House have signaled that they want the weapons to be deployed. So, it’s still a long shot.

What if the new nukes get deployed?

We’re raising this argument at a period when a lot of members of Congress don’t spend much time learning about nuclear weapons policy. Raising this debate, forcing policymakers to really grapple with these decisions, has helped delegitimize the idea of low-yield nuclear weapons.

If there is a change in administration, a future administration would have the opportunity to reverse course and take these warheads out of service. So even if we fall short and they begin to get deployed now, part of the goal of raising public attention and awareness of this is to set the tone for what a smarter and sounder policy would be.

Chris Kearns-McCoy, FCNL Program Assistant for Communications, conducted this Q & A.

Anthony Wier

Anthony Wier

Legislative Secretary, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending

Anthony served as lead lobbyist and the director of FCNL’s work on nuclear weapons policy and was a key team leader working on our efforts to rein in Pentagon spending.