The Pentagon's new nuclear policy will stockpile smaller weapons that are easier to use

The mushroom cloud from Ivy Mike (codename given to the test) rises above the Pacific Ocean over the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands on November 1, 1952
(Image credit: Handout/The Associated Press)

The Department of Defense on Friday revealed a new strategy for American nuclear policy focused on building up smaller nuclear weapons that are easier to use.

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is an effort to "look reality in the eye," said Defense Secretary James Mattis, and "see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be." The announcement included swipes at former President Obama's policy of nuclear reduction, which Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said has happened while "every one of our potential nuclear adversaries has been pursuing the exact opposite strategy."

The "low yield" bombs the NPR features can do damage similar to that of the U.S. nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Russia, the only country whose nuclear arsenal rivals the United States' stockpile, already has weapons this size that the Trump administration now wishes to match.

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Indeed, though it addressed other nations, the NPR targeted Russia with much of its deterrence language. In the past, U.S. and Russian strategies of nuclear development have differed, with Washington favoring larger, longer-lasting weapons and Moscow preferring to constantly update a collection of smaller, more mobile bombs. Critics warn the 2018 NPR's shift toward direct competition could create a "new nuclear arms race."

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