White House officials discussed whether to conduct the first nuclear test explosion since 1992, The Washington Post reported Friday.
A meeting of people representing the top national security agencies discussed the matter May 15, according to the newspaper, which cited an unidentified senior administration employee and two former officials familiar with the deliberations.
The matter surfaced after some administration representatives said Russia and China were conducting low-yield nuclear tests, “an assertion that has not been substantiated by publicly available evidence and that both countries have denied,” the newspaper said.
The National Security Council declined to comment to the Washington Post.
The Post, quoting a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that demonstrating to Russia and China that the United States could “rapid test” could prove to be a useful negotiating strategy as Washington seeks a trilateral deal to regulate the nuclear arsenals of the three powers.
The report quoted one official as saying that while the meeting did not end in any agreement that a test would be conducted, the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation.” Another person familiar with the meeting, however, said a decision was ultimately made to take other measures in response to threats posed by Russia and China and avoid a resumption of testing.
The United States said on Thursday it will withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty allowing unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, the Trump administration’s latest move to pull the country out of a major global treaty.
The decision deepens doubts about whether Washington will seek to extend the 2010 New START accord, which imposes the last remaining limits on U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each. It expires in February.
Later in the day, Trump’s arms control negotiator mounted a full-blown defense of the administration’s arms control policies, focusing on the president’s proposal that China join the United States and Russia on a replacement for the New START Treaty.
“We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion. If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it,” Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea told the Hudson Institute think tank.
The U.S. has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992, and nonproliferation advocates quickly warned that doing so now could have destabilizing consequences.
“This is the nuclear arms control version of injecting yourself with disinfectant,” tweeted Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. “The notion that a US nuclear test would bring Russia and China cowering to the negotiating table is beyond outlandishly preposterous.”
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Executive Director and former Rep. John Tierney called the report “nothing short of appalling.”
“We are in the midst of the worst public health crisis of our lifetime and this is what the Trump Administration is doing with its time? When Americans say that they want and need tests, they weren’t talking about the nuclear kind,” he said in a statement, referring to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Tierney added that there was “no need to conduct explosive nuclear tests” since “nuclear experts at our labs and our top military leaders affirm the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal every single year.”