The Show of Strength: US Considering Return to Nuclear Testing
By Staff, Agencies
US officials have debated whether to carry out the first US nuclear tests in 28 years as a way to pressure Russia and China into make a trilateral arms control deal, according congressional aides and former officials.
They said the discussion took place at a “deputies meeting” of senior national security officials at the White House on 15 May, but that the proposal was shelved for the time being.
A congressional aide further said: “There are still some professionals in the room who told them this is a terrible idea, thank God.”
The discussion was first reported on Friday night by the Washington Post, which cited a senior administration official as saying that a demonstration to Moscow and Beijing that the United States could carry out a “rapid test” could be a useful bargaining counter in the achieving the administration’s priority on arms control – a trilateral deal with Russia and China.
The report also quoted a senior administration official as saying the proposal was “very much an ongoing conversation”.
The deputies’ committee discussion has come at a time when arms control is in danger of dying out altogether. The Trump administration has pulled out of three arms control agreements, the latest this week with an announcement that the US will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows the Russia and western nations to conduct observation overflights of each other’s territories.
The last major arms control treaty left standing is the 2010 New Start agreement, limiting US and Russian deployed strategic warheads. It is due to expire in February next year but the Trump administration has said it does not want to extend it without bringing China into arms control negotiations. Beijing has refused, on the grounds that its stockpile is tiny compared with the US and Russian arsenals [estimated at just over a twentieth of the size.
The apparent motive behind the proposal to resume US testing was somehow to add pressure on China.
“They discussed underground testing in the context of trying to bring China to the table for the trilateral agreement,” a former official said. “Among the professionals in the administration, the idea was dismissed as unworkable and dumb. The NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] is definitely not on board. And it seemed like that state [department] wasn’t on board either.”