The Pentagon Wants to Fight Digital Fire With Real Fire

Days after America's nuclear fears were realized in the form of an accidental push alert, the Pentagon announced that it wants to amp up the country's response to weapons of mass destruction by making nuclear arms a more prominent solution in our defensive agenda.

The Pentagon penned Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) equates non-nuclear threats with nuclear threats, expanding the definition of what "extreme circumstances" regarding attacks means. The NPR would effectively enable American defenses to lob devastating weapons in reaction to nonphysical threats to our infrastructure that could be interpreted as abstractly as cyberattacks. This liberal handling of weapons outlined in the NPR has been sent to President Donald Trump for approval. Neither the Pentagon nor the White House has commented on such assessments of the plan.

The NPR would also advance production of smaller nuclear weapons that skirt the line of being non-nuclear, some of which were being developed during the Obama administration. Experts observe that the strategy to handle (as well as the motivation to create) such weaponry under the NPR suggests a greater likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used.

This news is, obviously, quite concerning. It also sadly echoes recent findings by the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report: in a survey of 1,000 international leaders on man-made threats, nuclear war was a top concern next to extreme weather and cyberattacks. Moreover, just weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke out directly on the matter in his "state of the world" speech, noting that "nuclear weapons must be banned."

Whether intentional or not, the NPR is perfectly timed (in the worst possible way) to stoke the reemergence of Cold War paranoia: days after Hawaii's botched missile warning, Japanese broadcasters sent false warnings of incoming North Korean weapons. Paired with rising tensions between countries — particularly between North Korea and the United States — and the ongoing debate over Trump's mental fitness, the uncomfortable laughter triggered by nuclear threats is starting to wear very, very thin.

The small positive in the Nuclear Posture Review draft is that Trump has yet to approve it. While there will likely be no confirmation nor denial of the plan until the final version is released in February, early speculation of the Review suggests more nuclear weapons are central to any plan involving Trump. Regardless of the final product, the new normal of 2018 is decidedly nuclear.