On 2nd February 2018, The United States chalked out a new nuclear strategy, Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) 2018. Amid deteriorating prospects of peace and rising tensions at global strategic level, this new doctrine has provoked serious concerns in the strategic thought at both regional and global level. While explaining the core causes, essential elements, and objectives of Trump doctrine, this article endeavors to expatiate and illustrate its gruesome global implications. It also elucidates a way forward as regards the looming threats of a nuclear war, in the milieu of nuclear arms race.

U.S. is now relying on nuclear capabilities more than diplomatic means to achieve its foreign policy objectives. NPR 2018 describes that for a credible deterrence U.S. needs to modernise its strategic triad comprising of submarine- launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and strategic bombers particularly capable of delivering low- yield tactical nuclear weapons. It clearly manifests the role that nuclear capabilities have gained in the U.S. strategic thinking after NPR 2018.

The United States has declared her nuclear doctrine as a posture of flexible, resilient and tailored nuclear capabilities aimed at countering Russian and Chinese aggressive nuclear threats to her strategic interests. As it reads, “this review candidly addresses the challenges posed by Russian, Chinese and other states’ strategic policies, programs and capabilities, particularly nuclear. It presents the flexible, adaptable, and resilient U.S. nuclear capabilities now required to protect the United States, allies, and partners, and promote strategic stability.”

However, realistically speaking, the nuclear up gradation and modernisation proposed by NPR 2018, which is aimed at countering enemy aggressive designs, as U.S. describes it, would ignite a strong response from adversaries leading to an arms race.

In international anarchic structure the security of one state means the insecurity of another state, also called security dilemma. So, U.S. security would mean insecurity of its adversaries that will ultimately endeavor for their survival against U.S. strategic muscles build up. For survival they would have to go either for alliance formation or military build-up to counterweigh U.S. strength. Alliances are never reliable means of security; whereas, military buildup ensures security of a state. This struggle for security by strengthening strategic muscles prompts arms race. For example, when U.S. exploded nuclear weapons in 1945, it started arms race threatening its adversary, Russia, which followed the suit in 1949 just 4 years after U.S. Similarly, other insecure states like Britain, France, India and Pakistan later joined the nuclear club. So, possibility of arms race cannot be denied even if U.S. ensures. Therefore, arms race would set the fumes into fire, eventually, leading to a nuclear war.

Over a year ago Trump announced: “The U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capabilities until such times as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes…” when his aides neglected the idea of arms race as a response to U.S. military strengthening, Trump categorically defended in an interview: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them [adversaries] at every pass and outlast them all.”

Though total U.S. budget spending on nuclear modernisation remains the same in Trump’s presidency as it was in Obama’s regime amounting to $1.2 trillion; However, Trump nuclear doctrine differs from its predecessor in including of low yield tactical nuclear weapons in nuclear strategy that could be used in battle field. Henceforth, by lowering the nuclear threshold and enhancing the possibilities of escalation to a full scale thermonuclear war, Trump administration has explicitly threatened world peace.

The possibility of a full blown catastrophic nuclear war is inherent in the very genes of Trump nuclear doctrine. As, NPR 2018 states: “if deterrence fails, the United States will strive to end any conflict at the lowest level of damage possible and on the best achievable terms for the United States, allies and partners.”

However, there is no denying the fact that war has a slippery road, once launched it does not remain in anyone’s control. No one can dare to make a war limited; particularly when adversaries also have lethal nukes. Even the low yield tactical nuclear weapons cannot ensure restraint in a war. On the contrary, deployment of these nukes at a time of confrontation will escalate a limited war to a full fledge total war. Hence, the better option is to avoid a war given the lethality of nuclear weapons.

As regards the nuclear control and disarmament, NPR 2018 contravenes the disarmament treaties. First, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1967 to control expansion and modernisation of nuclear arsenal. It also envisaged general and complete disarmament of nuclear stockpiles. However, NPR, which resorts to up gradation and modernisation of nuclear arsenal, clearly violates NPT.

Second, two nuclear giants, Russia and U.S., signed Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987, whereby both powers agreed to eliminate their intermediate range and short range nukes. Though America has alleged Russia to violating INF by deploying low-yield tactical nuclear weapons which triggered U.S. to develop, upgrade and modernise its nuclear threshold. Whatever the causes, U.S. nuclear doctrine is a clear manifestation of INF breach.

The U.S. pursuit of nuclear modernization would encourage other states to follow the suit. This scenario would have devastating consequences for world peace. Because, battle field nukes would increase the probabilities of nuclear exchange even in a non-nuclear conflict.

As regards the global implications, first, NPR 2018 would make the world more vulnerable. The dooms day clock was recently reset to two minutes to midnight, which clearly illustrates a catastrophic event reaching the planet. The scientists have already described current moment as a scariest one in the history of mankind.

Humanity has invented overkill capacity; lethal nuclear weapons. It would prove cataclysmic when used as means to achieve political objectives. Henceforth, there is a dire need for the people at the helm of affairs to ponder upon their strategic thinking and policy formulation.

Second, The U.S. reliance on nuclear capabilities to further her political and strategic objectives poses a sever threat to diplomacy and, hence, the passivity of international strategic environment. For peace in the world diplomatic means must be preferred over military means. Military means must be used as a last resort. Given the American threat to diplomacy there is a need for world to prioritize diplomacy in policy making. Now when world powers would revise their nuclear doctrines, in the light of American NPR 2018, rationality demands recognising the importance of diplomacy in the formulation and execution of policies.

Third, deterrence works among rational. It is meant for avoiding mutually assured destruction by increasing the cost of war and lowering the benefits. Hence, deterrence can be a tool for establishing peace. However, when emotionalism takes over the rationality in policy making processes, as in NPR 2018, deterrence does not work. Because irrational adversaries could not perceive the credibility of deterrence. Therefore, now, when world is at the brink of nuclear war global powers must realize the role of rationality in the policy making processes. Rationality can safeguard the humanity against looming threats.

In a nutshell, U.S. reliance on lethal nuclear weapons to achieve her political objectives would increase the vulnerability of regional and global strategic environment to nuclear Armageddon by prompting nuclear arms race amongst world powers. Already divided in blocks, Aggressive America, resurgent Russia, rising China, threatening North Korea and ambitious Iran are challenging world peace. Furthermore, NPR like strategies would only intensify the problems. In order to pacify regional and global strategic environment world powers must rationalize their policies. Also, they should prefer diplomatic means over military capabilities. Only rational and pragmatic policies would safeguard humanity against looming threats of nuclear Armageddon. So, all the stakeholders must endeavor in its true essence to pacify the whole world.


n            The writer has completed masters in International Relations from Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. Currently, he writes in different journals and newspapers on Foreign policy and Security issues. His articles include “New world order and Pakistan”, and “Evaluating our foreign policy” etc.