Defense

Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes

A group of House Democrats and a Senate Democrat introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban the Trump administration's plans for a so-called low-yield nuclear weapon.

"We should not fund President Trump's request for new low-yield nuclear weapons," House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement. "His proposal dangerously lowers the threshold to nuclear use and siphons money away from genuine military readiness needs."

Smith introduced the bill in the House alongside Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu (Calif.), John Garamendi (Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.). Democratic Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.) introduced the Senate version of the bill.

The Trump administration's Nuclear Posture Review called for the development of a low-yield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The administration argues it needs such a weapon for deterrence purposes, as adversaries might think the United States would never use its current arsenal.

Opponents of the plan, including Democratic lawmakers and arms control groups, argue it is too costly, could spark a new nuclear arms race and could lead to a greater willingness to use nuclear weapons if officials believe "low-yield" is less destructive.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law last month authorizes the development of a low-yield warhead. The Energy Department spending bill passed last week would allocate $65 million for the project.

The bill introduced Tuesday would repeal the section of the NDAA authorizing the warhead and instead ban any funding from being used for "the research and development, production or deployment of the Trident D5 low-yield nuclear warhead."

"There's no such thing as a low-yield nuclear war," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Wash.) said in a statement. "Use of any nuclear weapon, regardless of its killing power, could be catastrophically destabilizing. It opens the door for severe miscalculation and could drag the U.S. and our allies into a devastating nuclear conflict."

The bill is unlikely to get a vote in a Republican-controlled Congress. Smith, though, has said curbing Trump's nuclear weapons plans would be one of his priorities if Democrats take back control of the House in the midterm elections and he becomes Armed Services Committee chairman. 

"I think the Republican Party and the Nuclear Posture Review contemplates a lot more nuclear weapons than I and I think most Democrats think we need. We also think the idea of low-yield nuclear weapons are extremely problematic going forward," Smith said at the Defense News conference earlier this month. "When we look at the larger budget picture, that's not the best place to spend the money."

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