Last updated: March 7, 2019
Should the United States conduct research into mini-nukes?
The US is no longer faced with a situation where it is dealing with a single enemy who either will o...
Nuclear weapons have two key features which make it desirable that they never be used. Firstly, even the smallest of the mini-nukes under consideration are a hundred times more powerful that the most powerful conventional weaponry. This means they are not ‘smart’ bombs able to be used selectively against purely military targets, but weapons which will inevitably result in massive devastation to soldiers and civilians alike. Secondly, all nuclear weapons produce dangerous levels of radiation which significantly increase the long term damage of the initial blast and make an area uninhabitable for decades.
George W. Bush’s signing of the Moscow Treaty in 2002 (which requires the USA to cut its strategic n...
While the development of mini-nukes may well breach the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ultimately the states that are likely to threaten the US either do not care about international arms treaties (such as North Korea or Iran) or have already developed enough weapons that they can keep these treaties without their security being put at risk (Russia or China are both thought to already possess tactical nuclear stockpiles). While it is obviously important to try and stop other states from developing nuclear weapons, it should not stop the US from being able to defend itself. It was for that reason that the US broke the Anti-Missile Defence Treaty and mini-nukes should be no different.
The United Kingdom is supposedly considering adopting any US mini-nuke program by replacing its existing Trident system of submarines (due to retire in 2012) with the cheaper mini-nukes. If other nuclear states like France and Israel did this too, surely China and Russia would have no option but to do the same.
Given that the smallest of the strategic nuclear weapons the US has is powerful enough to obliterate...
Thus to maintain deterrence the US needs to shift from MAD to a ‘Flexible Response’ philosophy and have an arsenal, including mini-nukes, which its enemies honestly believe might be used. By equipping itself with a range of responses which are appropriate to the range of threats levelled against it, the US is far more likely to deter potential aggressors in future.
Even worse, states like North Korea and Iran can justifiably see the development of mini-nukes as an aggressive step by the US to develop weapons designed for use against them, thus giving them a greater justification for developing their own nuclear weapons in response.\
The US should remember that nuclear weapons are the great leveller: a state like Iran will never have the funds or technology to match the conventional weaponry that the US can bring to bear, but with just one nuclear weapon all that conventional weaponry becomes almost irrelevant. The more states which feel the nuclear taboo has been broken or that they are under threat from the USA, the more states that will develop their own nuclear weapons and the less able the US will be to use its conventional forces as a genuine deterrent. \
Aside from dealing with tactical threats on the battlefield, the other main use for mini-nukes is as...
A 5 kiloton mini-nuke bunker-buster would provide sufficient yield to destroy most HDBTs as well as to vaporise any chemical, biological or nuclear stockpiles within them. Perhaps more importantly, US Strategic Command (StratCom) estimates it would have between 10 and 20 times lower radiation fallout than the B61-11 while still achieving similar levels of damage despite its lower yield. This would make it a politically and morally viable option, particularly when it is used against stockpiles of WMD; even the most sceptical scientists concede that the potential casualties from any fallout would be lower than if the WMD was used aggressively.\
Obviously these bunker-busters have not been fully researched and developed yet, that is why this motion calls for support for research into them, and so we should be wary of claims that they will never be able to work. Yet if the choice is between sending a land invasion to destroy underground nuclear laboratories with the inevitable casualties as compared to using mini-nuke bunker busters, it seems clear the research is worth doing.
Furthermore, given that the claim is that it would be justifiable to use such powerful weapons because they would be destroying other WMD, we should be sure that mini-nuke bunker busters would actually succeed in such missions. Firstly, intelligence accurate enough to justify using nuclear weapons is unlikely to be available. Secondly, scientific studies suggest that there is a high likelihood that the weapons would not be completely destroy any biological stockpiles and that it might even disperse the biological agents into the surrounding area. \
There is, of course, an alternative to mini-nukes; firstly the US can try to cut down the number of states developing places to hide WMD stockpiles through strengthened arms controls (like supporting attempts to include better inspection and monitoring in chemical and biological weapons treaties), and attempts to limit proliferation and arms trading. Secondly, in dealing with HDBTs where they have been built, existing conventional weaponry like the Daisy Cutter fuel-air bombs used by the US against Al Qaeda operatives hiding in the Tora Bora caves of Afghanistan or by Russian forces in Chechnya provide immense explosive force (admittedly with only 0.6% of the force of a 1 kiloton mini-nuke) but without the long term radioactive fallout or problem of blurring the line between conventional and nuclear weaponry.
It would be possible to research and potentially to develop a new range of nuclear weaponry without ...
The second key part of the research into mini-nukes focuses on producing a delivery missile for the bunker-buster bombs. These missiles would be dropped from 20,000 feet or more by aircraft and then smash through the ceiling of underground bunkers. Developing such delivery vehicles is probably the most technically complex part of the research and accounted for most of the funding voted through by Congress in 2003. Testing these missiles would not breach the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Even if the US did decide to mount a mini-nuke on one and test it, given the administration’s vocal opposition to the Treaty and the way other states around the world have ignored it or chosen not to sign up to it, it is unlikely to lead to a flood of states deciding to start nuclear testing.
While the US has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Congressional moratorium on testing has given some support for the treaty. Vocal US criticism of states like India, Pakistan and France for testing nuclear weapons has also helped to limit testing and development mainly to rogue states which have been isolated and condemned by the international community. A change of the USA's position on testing would certainly lead to other countries following its lead.\
We should also not forget that nuclear testing itself causes huge damage to the environment and any resumption would only serve to obliterate more Pacific atolls and parts of New Mexico.
There is a fear amongst the US scientific community that the US is losing its dominance of the acade...
Secondly, there is the risk that whereas strategic nuclear weapons are kept under great security in missile silos, on submarines or at aircraft bases often on the US mainland, tactical weapons are likely to be placed near potential threats and in larger numbers. This makes it more likely that they will be stolen, lost or involved in accidents. Given that mini-nukes have yields low enough to make them practical for terrorist groups to use for political ends, combined with the almost inevitable adoption of mini-nukes by states other than the US, the possibility of a terrorist group acquiring them, potentially for an attack on the US itself, looks high.