WASHINGTON Joe Biden’s appointment to the White House nearly a year ago appeared to signal a historic shift towards less U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons and possibly a decrease of their number. Even the American “no-first-use” commitment — which is a pledge not ever again to be the first nation to deploy nuclear weapons was a possibility.
Then China was revealed — there were revelations about its growing nuclear power and talk of war with Taiwan. The latest.
Then Russia began to show indications that suggest it is in the process of preparing to attack Ukraine.
Today, significant shifts within U.S. nuclear weapons policy are not likely. Although Biden may be adamant about some changes, the momentum towards a historic growth away of the Trump administration’s policies seems to be slowed.
The picture will become more apparent after the Biden administration has completed its nuclear posture review, an internal examination of the types, numbers, and uses of the weapons that comprise the arsenal of nuclear weapons, along with the guidelines that govern their use. The findings are expected to be released within January.
The biggest question is how Biden will weigh in on these issues in light of White House calculations of the political risk. In his time as vice-president, Biden talked of new policies for nuclear. However, the increased concern about China and Russia could boost the power of Republicans trying to portray this policy shifts as a blessing to the atomic enemies.
Russia was a significant subject of Biden’s concern following the fact that Russian Russia’s president Vladimir Putin in recent weeks, sent around 100,000 troops to areas near the border of Ukraine and requested U.S. security guarantees. Biden and Putin talked about Ukraine through a phone call on Thursday. Top American and Russian officials are expected to hold further discussions in Geneva in January. 9-10.
Tom Z. Collina, the director of policy of the Ploughshares Fund, a proponent for nuclear disarmament Collina says that it is true that the China and Russia problems make it difficult to determine the direction of Biden’s atomic policy review, but will not hinder him from taking steps to mitigate the dangers of nuclear weapons.
“We don’t want an arms race in the nuclear realm between any nation. The only method to avoid it is to use diplomats,” Collina said. “We must be mindful of the most important lesson that we learned from the Cold War with Russia – that the best way of winning in an arms race is to not race.”
In March, Biden described interim national security guidelines as the White House; Biden said China and Russia have changed “the power distribution globally.”
“Both Beijing and Moscow have put a lot of money into efforts to test U.S. strengths and prevent us from defending our national interests as well as our partners around the globe,” the guidance said. Biden promised to respond by taking steps to help strengthen America’s position in the world, support the United States at home, restore its relationships abroad and increase the importance of diplomacy. Nuclear weapons were only mentioned briefly.
“We will adopt steps to decrease the importance of nukes in our strategy of national defense,” thof e guidance said without giving specifics while making sure that we have a secure and solid U.S. nuclear power and looking for opportunities to control arms.
Since then, concerns about China as well as Russia have only grown. In the summer of last year, private satellite images showed that China was developing large numbers of underground silos that could be used for nuclear missiles. In November, a Pentagon report stated that China could quadruple the amount of its nuclear arsenal by 2030.
“Because of the actions China is doing, it has changed the course of this review,” claims Robert Soofer, who was the most senior nuclear policy official under the Trump administration. He was also the director of an annual nuclear review in 2018.
“Rather than being an assessment that focuses on the impact of nuclear weapons or cutting a piece of the triad, they’re expected to keep the course and figure out the best way to tweak it in the edges.”
In June, before the most recent Russian troop deployment close to Ukraine, the Pentagon’s chief of policy, Colin Kahl, said the prospects for U.S. nuclear policy was affected not just through China’s nuke ambitions but as well by “real fear” in U.S. allies in Europe regarding Russian defense and nuclear policies.
“And that’s why Russia is the closest wolf to the shed in terms of how it pertains to the nuclear issue. However, just behind China’s wish to increase their nuclear arsenal in both quantitative and qualitative terms,” Kahl said June 23 during a nuclear policy conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Kahl did not provide a preview of the outcome of the review. However, he did say that it’s meant to be part of an overall defense strategy announced in early 2022.
The Pentagon hasn’t publicly disclosed the details regarding the review. However, the administration is likely to maintain the current framework for nuclear power, the conventional “triad” of air-, sea and land-based weapons that critics say is excessive. It could also embrace an upgrade of US$1 trillion or more to modernize this force, started under President Obama and continued by the Obama administration and then continued by Trump.
It’s not sure if Biden will support any significant modification to what’s known as “declaratory policy,” which lays out the motives of nuclear weapons as well as the scenarios in circumstances they can be employed.
The Obama administration, led by Vice President Joe Biden being vice-president, declared the following year that they would “only contemplate the use of nuclear weapons only in extremely dire circumstances to defend the essential security interests that are the interests of the United States or its allies and allies.” The administration did not define “extreme conditions.”
Eight years later, the Trump administration has reaffirmed the Obama policy but made it more specific. “Extreme circumstances may include significant strategic threats that are not nuclear. Strategically significant non-nuclear attacks could comprise, but are not only limited to attacks on infrastructure, the U.S., but also allied, or civilian partner population, or infrastructure, as well as attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces or the command and control of these forces or warning and capability for assessment.”
As president, many believed that Biden would take the opposite direction and follow his guidance regarding the “no-first-use” promise. In his Jan. 2017 address: “Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of our current dangers, it’s difficult to imagine a plausible scenario in which the initial nuclear weapon used of this United States would be necessary or even make sense.”
Some argue that China or Russia shifted “today’s threats in the past year,” possibly keeping Biden on a treacherous path.