1. Letter
  2. Nuclear Weapons

FCNL Joins With 21 Other NGOs to Oppose Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons

By Anthony Wier, May 16, 2018

On May 4, FCNL and 21 other organizations wrote to the Senate asking it to deny funding for a dangerous and destabilizing new "low-yield" nuclear warhead for the Navy's submarine launched ballistic missile that would increase the chances of nuclear war. Read the letter below.

May 4, 2018

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator McConnell,

We ask you to reject the proposal in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review for a new “low-yield” warhead for the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile. This new weapon is unnecessary and would increase the risk of miscalculation and wider nuclear use. The Administration’s FY2019 budget included $22.6 million in DoD funding and recently added $65 million in DOE funding for this weapon.

There are three reasons you should oppose this new weapon. First, the Trump administration’s case for this new low-yield 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 low-yield nuclear weapon first in a conflict and assume the United States would be “self-deterred” from responding because the Pentagon lacks sufficient low-yield nuclear options.

But there is no gap. The United States already deploys several types of B61 bombs and an air-launched cruise missile with low-yield options, totaling approximately 1,000 weapons in its arsenal. In addition, current plans call on the United States to invest more than $150 billion to field a new B61 bomb with low-yield options, a new cruise missile and warhead with low-yield options, as well as a new stealth bomber and fighter aircraft to deliver these weapons.

Second, in the highly unlikely event of a Russian limited nuclear attack, there is no evidence to suggest that a limited US nuclear counterstrike would end the conflict. In fact, such a response would increase the risk of further nuclear escalation.

“The idea of a low-yield nuclear weapon is kind of a mirage. It is a nuclear weapon… [It] invites escalation.”

George Shultz

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.”

Third, a low-yield warhead on a ballistic missile invites miscalculation. 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, it may feel pressured to respond quickly by launching a missile of its own, further increasing the risk of unintended nuclear escalation.

It was this same discrimination problem 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 US 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.

When testifying before Congress on March 20, 2018, General Hyten, the commander of US Strategic Command, said, “I have everything I need today to deter Russia from doing anything against the United States of America. We're fully ready against any threat that exists today, without a doubt.”

Based on that assessment, it is unclear why the Administration is seeking to fast-track the development of a low-yield warhead in FY2019. We urge you to deny funding for the “low-yield” Trident warhead.


Glenn Carroll, Coordinator
Nuclear Watch South

Jeff Carter, Executive Director
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Tom Collina, Director of Policy
Ploughshares Fund

Jay Coughlin, Executive Director
Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Lisbeth Gronlund, Co-Director and Senior Scientist
Global Security Program
Union of Concerned Scientists

Ralph Hutchinson, Coordinator
Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

Derek Johnson, Executive Director
Global Zero

Marylia Kelley, Executive Director
Tri-Valley CARES, Livermore CA

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director
Arms Control Association

David Krieger, President
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Hans Kristensen, Director
Nuclear Information Project
Federation of American Scientists

Gerry Lee, Executive Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Paul Kawika Martin, Senior Director
Policy and Political Affairs
Peace Action

Stephen Miles, Director
Win Without War

Robert K. Musil, President & CEO
Rachel Carson Council

John Qua, Senior Campaigner
Beyond the Bomb

Guy Quinlan, President
Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy

Becky Rafter, Executive Director
Georgia WAND

Laura Skelton, Executive Director
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

John Tierney, Executive Director
Council for a Livable World

Cassandra Varanka
Nuclear Weapons Policy Coordinator
Women’s Action for New Directions

Anthony Wier, Legislative Secretary
Nuclear Disarmament & Pentagon Spending
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Anthony Wier

  • Legislative Secretary, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending

Anthony is our lead lobbyist and the director of FCNL's work on nuclear weapons policy and is the key team leader working on our efforts to rein in Pentagon spending. He is also responsible for maintaining FCNL’s Nuclear Calendar and for representing FCNL with the various coalitions that work on these issues.