When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “all options are on the table” with regard to North Korea, he was indicating that the United States is considering attacking the country with nuclear weapons. That’s the real “nuclear option.”
The United States maintains an arsenal of some 6,800 nuclear warheads, one-fourth of them deployed on land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles or long-range bombers. Most of them carry many times the explosive force of the first generation nuclear bombs that killed more than 200,000 people in Japan in 1945. The warheads on land-based missiles are kept in high-alert status, meaning they can be launched within minutes of a suspected attack, perhaps before that attack is even verified.
And while official policy still speaks of “deterrence,” it is now and long has been U.S. military doctrine to consider using nuclear weapons in pre-emptive attacks, including against North Korea. As Donald Trump asked, if we’re not going to use them, “why are we making them?”
The Trump administration is pushing ahead with a plan hatched during Barack Obama’s term to do a complete replacement of the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a cost of $1 trillion. That’s a new generation of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles and long-range bombers, plus a new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile. Then, there’s a new generation of warheads, designed to be more “usable.”
The authority to use U.S. nuclear weapons – which could set off massive famine on top of direct casualties – rests with Donald Trump, the commander in chief.
Eight other countries also have the capacity to launch nuclear weapons: Russia, France, Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, China, and yes, North Korea, which is believed to have about a dozen warheads on what by U.S. standards are primitive missiles.
The danger that any of these countries might detonate their terrible weapons of mass destruction, and that conflicts between them could lead to…