Pentagon Reportedly Weighing Using Nukes In Response To 'Large Cyberattacks’

A draft of the Defense Department's new nuclear strategy says the U.S. could respond to certain “non-nuclear attacks” with nuclear weapons.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on May 19, 2017.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on May 19, 2017.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The Pentagon is reportedly pushing a new retaliation tactic should the U.S. ever be hit by a devastating cyberattack: America could nuke the culprit.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that a pre-decisional draft of the Defense Department’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which details U.S. nuclear strategy, includes “large cyberattacks” as an example of a non-nuclear strike on American lives and infrastructure that could be countered with nuclear weapons.

“Three current and former senior government officials said large cyberattacks against the United States and its interests would be included in the kinds of foreign aggression that could justify a nuclear response,” the Times wrote of the new strategy. The officials stressed, however, that “other, more conventional options for retaliation” could also be used in response to a cyberattack.

The Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, was commissioned last year by President Donald Trump and is currently being reviewed by the White House. It will need the president’s approval before it’s made final.

HuffPost first published an unclassified copy of the draft last week. The final document is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

As the Times notes, the draft does not explicitly state that a cyberattack could be grounds for a nuclear reprisal.

Echoing the NPR of Barack Obama’s administration, the new strategy is expected to say that nuclear weapons could be used in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.” Unlike the Obama-era strategy, however, the new draft indicates that those “extreme circumstances ... could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.” Officials told the Times that those non-nuclear attacks could include cyber ones that cause widespread destruction.

Though the U.S. has yet to experience a truly catastrophic cyberattack, such a strike could have devastating impacts — including the destruction of a country’s infrastructure.

The massive “WannaCry” cyberattack last year, which was blamed on North Korea, impacted more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries across the globe. Banks and universities were shut down because of the attack. In the U.K., hospitals were forced to shutter wards and emergency rooms.

China, Russia and Iran have also recently been blamed for carrying out cyberattacks with widespread consequences.

The 2018 NPR also calls for the development of more so-called low-yield nuclear weapons ― even though the U.S. already possesses over 1,000 nuclear warheads considered low-yield.

Experts say it’s clear that the Trump administration is seeking to amp up America’s nuclear capabilities, but it’s unclear what outcome the government is hoping to achieve with more nukes.

“Making the case that we need more low-yield options is making the case that this president needs more nuclear capabilities at his disposal,” Alexandra Bell, a former senior adviser at the State Department and current senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg last week.

“Regardless of the fact that we have 4,000 nuclear weapons in our active stockpile, which is more than enough to destroy the world many times over. So I don’t think it makes a convincing case that we somehow lack capabilities. And, in fact, I don’t think you can make the case that this president needs any more capabilities,” Bell added.

Trump recently made waves for his boasts about America’s nuclear arsenal.

Responding to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s claim of a nuclear button, Trump tweeted about having a “much bigger” and “more powerful” one.

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