Just weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden warned that Russia’s assault on Ukraine has dramatically raised the risk of “Armageddon,” his administration on Thursday released a Nuclear Posture Review that nonproliferation advocates say does nothing to pull the world back from the brink of global catastrophe.
While the formal statement of U.S. nuclear strategy pays lip service to the need to limit the spread and prevent the use of atomic weaponry and cancels an egregious Trump-era missile program, the document makes clear that the country will move ahead with dangerous and costly modernization plans—and leaves intact the option of a nuclear first strike.
“The Biden NPR doubles down on nuclear deterrence and the status quo approach to security that says we all must be prepared to die in less than an hour.”
“Allies must be confident that the United States is willing and able to deter the range of strategic threats they face, and mitigate the risks they will assume in a crisis or conflict,” the document states. “Modernizing U.S. nuclear forces is key to assuring allies that the United States is committed and capable of deterring the range of threats U.S. nuclear strategy addresses.”
The leading threats, according to the posture review, are Russia and China, which the Pentagon document characterizes as “major and growing” nuclear dangers to the U.S. and its allies.
The review makes clear that U.S. officials considered and rejected “no first use” and “sole purpose” policies that would bar the U.S. from launching a preemptive nuclear strike or using an atomic weapon in response to a non-nuclear attack. The document claims such policies “would result in an unacceptable level of risk.”
That position conflicts with Biden’s statement during the 2020 presidential campaign that “the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack.”
Stephen Young, senior Washington representative at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is “a terrifying document” that “not only keeps the world on a path of increasing nuclear risk, in many ways it increases that risk.”
“Citing rising threats from Russia and China,” Young noted, “it argues that the only viable U.S. response is to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, maintain an array of dangerous Cold War-era nuclear policies, and threaten the first use of nuclear weapons in a variety of scenarios.”
“Yes, the world is becoming a more dangerous place, but the only military threat to the survival of the United States is a nuclear war with Russia or China,” he continued. “Rather than recognizing that threat and seeking to find ways to end it, the Biden NPR doubles down on nuclear deterrence and the status quo approach to security that says we all must be prepared to die in less than an hour.”
Made public after months of delay, Biden’s NPR comes as fears of nuclear conflict remain high after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened last month to put his country’s vast arsenal to use in Ukraine. In a new speech on Thursday, Putin said he has no intention of using nuclear weapons, declaring, “There is no point in that, neither political nor military.”
A day earlier, Putin oversaw planned nuclear drills less than two weeks after NATO began its own rehearsal for atomic warfare that would threaten the survival of humanity.
Jessica Sleight, partner for policy at Global Zero—a movement that advocates the total elimination of nuclear weapons—said in a statement Thursday that “contrary to President Biden’s stated intentions to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, this Nuclear Posture Review continues decades of nuclear overkill, doubles down on needless weapons programs, and fails to advance overdue reforms to policy and posture that would make the United States, its allies, and the world safer.”
“The NPR was an opportunity for the United States to show real leadership to reject nuclear warfighting, reduce nuclear dangers, and begin moving toward a smaller, safer arsenal with a more stable posture,” said Sleight. “Instead, we see Putin’s imperialist ambitions and China’s reported nuclear expansion have strengthened the hand of nuclear hawks who underestimate the growing risks of nuclear arms race instability and escalation.”
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