Mattis has totally flipped on nuclear weapons since the Pentagon decided to take on China and Russia

  • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis used to question the US's nuclear arsenal and had called for certain elements to be removed or reduced.
  • But since joining the Trump administration, Mattis has seemingly reversed his position, and now supports building more.
  • Mattis' u-turn suggests he has gained information that nuclear weapons will become important as the Pentagon confronts China and Russia.


US Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis used to doubt the need for the US's massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, but since joining President Donald Trump's administration, he has changed his tune.

When Trump's team rolled out the Nuclear Posture Review, Mattis, who vocally opposed expanding or even keeping all of the nuclear arsenal in the past, gave it his blessing.

In 2015, Mattis questioned if the US still needed ground-based intercontinental missiles, as he found the risk of accidental launches a bit questionable. When the Senate was confirming him as Trump's Secretary of Defense, Mattis refused to offer his support for a program to update the US's air-launched nuclear cruise missile. 

But now Mattis has signed off on a new nuclear position that will not only modernize the ICBMs and cruise missiles, it calls for the creation of two entirely new classes of nuclear weapons. It suggests Mattis learned something about US national security that may have changed his mind.

RELATED: How to survive a nuclear attack

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What should you do in the event of a nearby nuclear attack? Click through to learn more. 

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Seek shelter immediately, towards the center of a building or -- preferably -- a basement. Aim for the same type of shelter you would utilize in the event of a tornado. 

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The next three slides are examples of nuclear shelters that exist around the world. 

(Image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

The entrance of Shelter Co.'s nuclear shelter model room, which is placed in the basement of the company's CEO Seiichiro Nishimoto's house, is pictured in Osaka, Japan April 26, 2017. (Photo via REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
A fallout shelter sign hangs on the Mount Rona Baptist Church, on August 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. In the early 60's Washington was at the center of civil defense preparations in case of a nuclear blast, with over one thousand dedicated public fallout shelters in schools, churches and government buildings. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A 'shelter' sign is displayed at the entrance to a subway station in Seoul on July 6, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. According to the metropolitan government, South Korea's city subway stations serve a dual purpose with over 3,300 designated as shelters in case of aerial bombardment including any threat from North Korea. The U.S. said that it will use military force if needed to stop North Korea's nuclear missile program after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday into Japanese waters. The latest launch have drawn strong criticism from the U.S. as experts believe the ICBM has the range to reach the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii and perhaps the U.S. Pacific Northwest. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Dense materials, including dirt or thick walls, provide the best defense to fallout radiation.

(Photo via Getty Images)

If possible, take a warm shower -- but do not use conditioner, as it can bond to nuclear particles. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Do not seek shelter in a car, as they won't provide adequate protection, and you should not attempt to outrun nuclear fallout. 

(Photo by Noel Hendrickson via Getty Images)

The nuclear fallout zone shrinks quickly after an attack, but the less dangerous "hot zone" still grows. 

(Image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Once you are sheltered, do not leave. Listen to a radio or other announcements. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

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"We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be," Mattis wrote in the review, perhaps an admission that as secretary of defense, he's come to see harsh realities that changed his position on nukes. 

The nuclear posture review, along with a new national defense and national security strategy, have all rolled out in early 2018 and point to a US more focused on combating major powers like Russia and China. Before joining the president, Mattis openly questioned the purpose of US nukes: Do they exist only to deter attacks? Or do they have an offensive value?

The nuclear posture advocated by Mattis now not only calls for an increase in an already massive arsenal, it actually advocates building smaller nuclear weapons to make them more usable in "limited" nuclear conflicts

Times a-changing

In the years since 2015, when Mattis spoke of reviewing the US's 400-some hair-triggered nuclear ICBMs, the world was a different place, but starting to change. China was in the middle of building islands in the South China Sea, and Russia had only just swept into Crimea. 

Now, the US has resolved to go on the offensive against China and Russia by matching their military strength and changing up the rules of engagement. The nuclear posture review advocates using nuclear force against non-nuclear attacks, like massive cyber campaigns on US infrastructure. 

RELATED: Gen. James Mattis through the years

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Secretary of Defense James Mattis

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis walks out after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet retired Marine General James Mattis for a meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine General James Mattis departs as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump walks back into the main clubhouse following their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis and Operation Gratitude Founder Carolyn Blashek speak during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Egyptian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan shakes hands with US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo on March 29, 2011.

(KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis speaks during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Threats Posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), AQ (al Qaeda), and Other Islamic Extremists' on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., September 18, 2014. Yesterday the House approved President Obama's plan to train Syrian rebels to counter ISIL.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 1, 2011. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require a military operation to destroy the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing 'the air defense capability first,' Mattis told a Senate hearing. 'It would be a military operation,' he added.

(CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander James Mattis speaks during the 2010 Atlantic Council awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC.

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Kuwait Major General James Mattis, a high ranking Marine commander who also led troops into Afghanistan, visits Living Support Area one in Kuwait near the Iraqi border where troops are poised to begin a war against Iraq if called to do so by the President of the United States.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis attend a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testifies to the House Armed Services Committee on "The National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reviews the guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony in Hanoi, Vietnam January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kham
U.S. Secretary for Defense, Jim Mattis, sits opposite Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, before a meeting at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in central London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis waits for the arrival of Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli prior to a meeting on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 8, 2017. Reuters/Virginia Mayo/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Defense Secretary James Mattis participates in a briefing with senior military leaders at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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Additionally, the review indicates that the US believes Russia is building an underwater nuclear torpedo as a kind of doomsday device

Mattis has always offered thoughtful answers and pledged to operate on the best information he had on the topic of nuclear weapons, but he has clearly done an about-face since joining the Trump administration.

The abrupt change in Mattis' nuclear posture begs the question: What new information did he receive upon joining the Trump team and becoming Secretary of Defense?

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