Updated Feb 5, 2018

Trump's nuclear strategy rekindles unresolved debates

President Trump outside the Pentagon, with Vice President Pence and Secretary of Defense Mattis. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

The Trump administration last Friday released its Nuclear Posture Review, the first since President Obama's in 2010, raising three big questions.

Why it matters: The chances of nuclear weapons being used are the highest they've been since the Cuban missile crisis. Now is the time for a serious public debate before Congress and the Trump administration decide on a new policy.

  1. How much is enough? The NPR calls for updating and augmenting the U.S. nuclear arsenal of 4,500 operational warheads in response to advances by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. The projected cost is roughly $40 billion a year over three decades, or at least $1.2 trillion in total. This isn’t chump change, especially given competing demands for dollars at the Pentagon and across the federal budget.
  2. What new options? Development of low-yield nuclear weapons is another pillar of the NPR. But it's an open question whether they would increase the odds of a nuclear war by lowering the threshold, or decrease them by providing a credible retaliation threat that would enhance deterrence by giving us an option short of all-out conflict.
  3. When to use? Per the review, the U.S. might use nuclear weapons under "extreme circumstances" in response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” including chemical and biological attacks and cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure or other high-value targets. Whether the U.S. should be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict is a critical strategic decision.

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America's rundown roads add to farmers' struggles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American farmers are struggling to safely use the roads that cut through their fields; decades of neglect and lack of funding have made the routes dangerous.

The big picture: President Trump has long promised to invest billions in rural infrastructure, and his latest proposal would allocate $1 trillion for such projects. Rural America, where many of Trump's supporters live, would see a large chunk of that money.

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday, while Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 as of Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

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Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."