01:46 GMT +324 February 2018
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    In this photo taken April 21, 2017, President Donald Trump looks out an Oval Office window at the White House in Washington following an interview with The Associated Press

    White House Could Approve Nuclear Strikes to Counter Cyberattacks

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    The US Defense Department and the White House are contemplating whether to solidify a new policy in the coming weeks that would authorize the use of nuclear weapons in response to crippling cyberattacks.

    Cyberattacks threatening to or actually wreaking physical havoc on the US mainland could be met with nuclear retaliation, the New York Times reports. The use of nuclear weapons has in the past been restricted to responding to horrors like, for example, a biological weapon attack.

    Last year, US President Donald Trump commissioned the production of a new nuclear posture review. Draft versions of the document call for a massive increase in nuclear weapon stockpiles, the development of low-yield nuclear warheads and nuke-armed cruise missiles for use by US Navy submarines.

    The use of nuclear weapons has been reserved for only the most extreme scenarios under typical US policy. The draft proposal of the nuclear posture review widens the definition of extreme circumstances to "include attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country's power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons," the Times notes.

    The new policy "realigns our nuclear policy with a realistic assessment of the threats we face today and the uncertainties regarding the future security environment," the draft states.

    "In no way does this approach ‘lower the nuclear threshold,'" though, according to a leaked version of the strategy, which has yet to be officially approved by the president. The Pentagon stated that the strategy, first published by the Huffington Post, was "pre-decisional," the Hill reported Wednesday.

    Former US government officials expressed skepticism that the document won't make nuclear war more likely. "Almost everything about this radical new policy will blur the line between nuclear and conventional," Andrew Weber, a former assistant secretary at the Pentagon, told the Times. If Trump approves the strategy as-is, the policy "will make nuclear war a lot more likely," Weber said.

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    Tags:
    cyberattacks, nuclear arsenal, Pentagon, White House, United States
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