Former ambassador Linton Brooks discusses Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy at UC Berkeley event

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Attendees dragged in extra chairs and lined the corridors of a packed classroom to hear Linton Brooks — a former ambassador who has made a career out of staring down nuclear arms crises — discuss the Trump administration’s positions on nuclear weapons at a campus event Monday.

At the event, which was co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Nuclear Policy Working Group and the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, or NSSC, Brooks dissected the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review report, or NPR — a formal review of the administration’s policy and strategy on nuclear arms — to a crowd of professors, graduate students and undergraduates.

Brooks, whose decades-long career has included serving on the White House National Security Council and overseeing the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, highlighted how the Trump administration’s NPR differs from that of the Obama administration, but emphasized the great degree of continuity across the two.

“This administration likes to portray strength,” Brooks said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “But my suspicion is that they are no less conscious or sober about nuclear conflict than any previous administration.”

The Trump NPR continues the Obama administration’s entire nuclear program, but with a handful of modifications: reducing the power of some submarine warheads, initiating studies to develop a new sea-launched missile and keeping two types of bombs that were slated for retirement, according to Brooks.

Brooks said NPRs remain mostly consistent across administrations because policymakers have adhered and continue to adhere to the belief that the threat of mutually assured destruction deters major powers from going to war.

Administrations will tailor their NPR in response to new or evolving nuclear states, according to Brooks, who added that the Trump administration’s changes continue that trend.

Because NPRs remain mostly constant across years, Brooks called the NPR a “Rorschach test” — opinions of the current administration inform opinions of the NPR.

“If you believe the current administration is dangerously militaristic, … then you think the changes in the NPR are wrong,” Brooks said. “If you think that the previous administration was naive, then you’ll like the changes. And if you’re like me, and you think that neither of those groups are right, then you’ll see that these reports are not that different.”

Despite these continuities, Brooks contrasted objectives in the two NPRs to highlight differences between the two administrations.

He provided the example of the negative security assurance, which states that the United States will not use nuclear weapons to threaten or attack non-nuclear weapon states. The Trump administration’s NPR has kept the previous NPR’s wording, but has broadened the cases in which the United States can consider using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.

“The new NPR reflects their quite dark view of international relations,” Brooks said. “This administration sees the world as having gotten much more dangerous in the last 10 years.”

Bethany Goldblum, executive director of the NSSC, attended the presentation and said she appreciated the balance and accessibility that Brooks displayed.

“I thought it was excellent,” Goldblum said in an email. “A practitioner’s viewpoint delivered at a level that was palatable for the academic community.”

Sam Levin covers student life. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.