Mattis: US must keep all three legs of nuclear triad

Mattis: US must keep all three legs of nuclear triad
© Getty Images

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital | Mattis, Tillerson reportedly opposed move | Pentagon admits 2,000 US troops are in Syria | Trump calls on Saudis to 'immediately' lift Yemen blockade Trump has yet to name ambassadors to key nations in Mideast Mattis, Tillerson warned Trump of security concerns in Israel embassy move MORE said Wednesday that the U.S. needs to keep all three of its methods of delivering nuclear weapons, acknowledging his views on the nuclear triad have changed.

“I’ve questioned the triad,” Mattis told reporters flying with him to Minot Air Force Base, according to The Associated Press.

“I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad," he added, referring to the delivery of nuclear weapons by land, sea and air. "If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go.”

Prior to becoming Defense secretary, Mattis supported eliminating silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Mattis in recent weeks has been dismissive of the idea of the getting rid of a leg of the triad, but his comments Wednesday are his strongest yet on keeping all three. 

Mattis indicated to reporters that all three legs of the triad will stay because nuclear deterrence requires an arsenal strong enough to convince enemies that an attack would be suicidal.

“You want the enemy to look at it and say, this is impossible to take out in a first strike, and the [U.S.] retaliation is such that we don’t want to do it,” he said, according to AP. “That’s how a deterrent works.”

The Trump administration is in the midst of an in-depth review of U.S. nuclear policy.

Mattis is visiting Minot in North Dakota as part of a nuclear posture review to talk to missileers and bomber crews about readiness issues and what they think should be part of it.

The Pentagon chief also said the Trump administration is reviewing the value of 2010 New START Treaty, which caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads and launchers the United States and Russia are allowed.

President Trump has dismissed New START as one of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE’s “bad deals,” calling the arms reduction treaty with Russia a “a one-sided deal.”

Mattis said that the Trump administration is not considering withdrawing from the treaty but that officials are "still engaged in determining whether it’s a good idea,” according to the AP.

Mattis’s trip will also include a stop at U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., the command in charge of nuclear forces.

The trip focusing on the U.S. nuclear arsenal comes after North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date. The trip was planned before the test, but provides an opportunity to highlight the U.S. nuclear forces.