1. Letter
  2. Nuclear Weapons

Dozen of NGOs Speak Out Against the New "Low-Yield" Nuke

May 13, 2019


FCNL and a coalition of NGOs sent a letter to Sen. Jack Reed (RI), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asking him to deny funding for and bar deployment of the new W76-2 "low-yield" nuclear warhead.


Dear Senator Reed,

We ask you to eliminate funding for and bar deployment of the new W76-2 nuclear warhead. This new weapon would have an explosive yield of about 5 kilotons and would replace some of the 100-kiloton W76-1 warheads deployed on Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It is unnecessary and would increase the risk of miscalculation and wider nuclear use. The Administration's FY2020 proposed budget includes $26 million in DoD funding and $10 million in DOE funding for this weapon; Congress should deny all of that request and prevent the warhead from being fielded.

There are three main reasons you should oppose this new nuclear weapon.

First, the Trump administration's case for this new warhead rests on the faulty premise that there is a "deterrence gap" with Russia. Because of this supposed "gap," the Nuclear Posture Review suggests that Russia might use a lower-yield nuclear weapon first in a conflict and assume the United States would be "self-deterred" from responding because the Pentagon lacks sufficient options with similar yields.

But there is no such gap. The U.S. nuclear arsenal has approximately 1,000 low-yield-capable weapons including several types of B61 bombs and an air-launched cruise missile that, between them, have yield options of 0.3, 1.5, 5, and 10 kilotons. In addition, the United States plans to spend in total more than $150 billion to field a new B61-12 bomb with low-yield options, a new cruise missile and warhead with low-yield options, and a new stealth bomber and fighter aircraft to deliver these weapons.

Second, in the highly unlikely event of a Russian limited nuclear attack in a so-called "tactical" strike, there is no evidence to suggest that a limited U.S. nuclear counterstrike would end the conflict. In fact, such a response would increase the risk of further nuclear escalation.

As President Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz testified to Congress on January 25, 2018, "The idea of a low-yield nuclear weapon is kind of a mirage. It is a nuclear weapon... [It] invites escalation."

Then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified before Congress in February 2018 that "I don't think there's any such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon. Any nuclear weapon used anytime is a strategic game changer."

Third, a low-yield warhead on a ballistic missile invites miscalculation that could also lead to the conflict escalating. If Russia detected an incoming Trident missile, it would not know whether it was armed with a low-yield or high-yield warhead. Based on a worst-case scenario assessment, it may feel pressured to respond quickly by launching one or more of its own nuclear-armed missiles.

It was this same concern about discrimination that led Congress to soundly reject the idea of deploying conventionally-armed Trident missiles in 2008. Congress was rightly concerned about the inability of nuclear-armed adversaries to determine whether a ballistic missile launched from a U.S. submarine was armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead. If Russia detected an incoming missile, it would have to assume it could be nuclear-armed, which could lead it to launch a nuclear weapon in response.

For these reasons, we urge you to deny funding for and bar deployment of the W76-2 Trident warhead.

Sincerely,

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Kevin Camps, Radioactive Waste Specialist, Beyond Nuclear
Cecili Thompson Williams, President, Beyond the Bomb
Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation
Joni Arends, Executive Director, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World
Ali Nouri, President, Federation of American Scientists
Anthony Wier, Legislative Secretary for Nuclear Disarmament & Pentagon Spending, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Lindsay Harper, Executive Director, Georgia WAND
Derek Johnson, Executive Director, Global Zero
Guy Quinlan, President, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Gerry Lee, Executive Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Glenn Carroll, Coordinator, Nuclear Watch South
John LaForge, Co-Director, Nukewatch
Ralph Hutchinson, Coordinator, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
Paul Kawika Martin, Senior Director, Policy and Political Affairs Peace Action
Cletus Stein, Convener, The Peace Farm
Jeff Carter, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Denise Duffield, Associate Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles
Tom Collina, Director of Policy, Ploughshares Fund
Vina Colley President, Portsmouth-Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security
Robert K. Musil, President & CEO, Rachel Carson Council
Judith Mohling, Coordinator of Nuclear Nexus, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center
Tom Clements, Director Savannah River Site Watch
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director Tri-Valley CARES, Livermore CA
Lisbeth Gronlund, Co-Director and Senior Scientist, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Max Savishinsky, Executive Director, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
Stephen Miles, Director, Win Without War
Caroline Dorminey, Policy Director, Women's Action for New Directions (WAND)