Senior Science Fellow Philip E. Coyle and Policy Analyst James McKeon wrote an op-ed on the potential return to nuclear testing for War on the Rocks.
Year after year, the heads of U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories have assessed that the U.S. stockpile is reliable, and that resuming explosive nuclear testing is unnecessary. In fact, the Stockpile Stewardship program, which “tests” nuclear weapons by other means, including advanced simulations via supercomputers, has provided laboratory scientists with more information about the U.S. stockpile than when explosive tests were regularly occurring.
But today, the Trump administration is indicating that those assessments may not be enough. While the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review included a blanket commitment not to conduct explosive nuclear tests, the Trump administration’s 2018 version of the document argues that the United States “must remain ready to resume nuclear testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges [emphasis added].” Severe technological challenges that could merit a return to testing do not currently exist. Specific geopolitical challenges, a new criterion, are not defined. Does this mean the administration could resume testing if China continues making aggressive moves in the South China Sea? If North Korea tests another missile? If Russian hackers disrupt U.S. government websites?