Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said that a plan to add a new cruise missile to the United States' nuclear arsenal aims to provide additional leverage to U.S. negotiators trying to persuade Russia to stop violating a key arms control treaty.
"The idea is, once again, to keep our negotiators negotiating from a position of strength," Mattis told a House Armed Services Committee hearing on February 6 on a policy document released last week that lays out the thinking of the administration on nuclear weapons use.
The Nuclear Posture Review, which was released on February 2, says that the United States will modify some of its existing long-range ballistic missiles carried by submarines to fit them with smaller-yield warheads.
It also says the administration will develop a shorter-range, nuclear-armed cruise missile that could be launched by submarines.
The long-range ballistic missile would not violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but the short-range cruise missile potentially might, if it is deployed on the ground.
Washington has accused Russia of developing a new missile that violates the agreement, a charge denied by Moscow. In turn, Russia said that Washington has "de facto" quit the Soviet-era arms-control pact.
Mattis reiterated that Russia is violating that treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and the U.S. administration wants to pressure Moscow to get back in line.
Republican lawmakers in Congress have allocated millions of dollars to develop the new missile.
Asked whether the United States would abandon the sea-launched cruise missile if the Russians return to treaty compliance, Mattis said, "I don't want to say in advance of a negotiation."
Russia's Foreign Ministry characterized the Nuclear Posture Review as both "confrontational" and "anti-Russian."
It particularly condemned the development of low-yield nuclear weapons, which Moscow said can significantly lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and "lead to a nuclear-missile war even in low-intensity conflicts."
The INF treaty covers ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles and their launchers, with ranges of 500 and 5,500 kilometers.