Global Zero: Biden Maintains Dangerous Nuclear Status Quo in “New” U.S. Nuclear Strategy

WASHINGTON – Today, the Biden administration released an unclassified version of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), laying out its vision and approach to nuclear weapons policy. 

Despite Biden’s guidance to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, and campaign pledges to adopt either a no first use or sole purpose doctrine, the administration’s NPR largely continues status quo policies of the previous administration. It maintains the option to initiate nuclear use in response to non-nuclear attacks by Russia or other nuclear-armed states. This policy mirrors that of Russia, which has threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend what Russia illegally claims as its own territory. At a time when Americans face rising costs of food, gas, and housing, the NPR keeps the United States on track to spend 1.8 trillion in taxpayer dollars on unnecessary weapons over the next thirty years, and maintains destabilizing smaller nuclear weapons developed and deployed under President Donald Trump.

In response to Biden’s NPR, Jessica Sleight, Partner for Policy at Global Zero, the international movement for a world without nuclear weapons, issued the following statement:

“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.

“As President Putin continues his devastating invasion of Ukraine and dangerous nuclear saber-rattling, the nuclear threat is more tangible than ever. 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. 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.

“Despite Biden’s decades of experience on nuclear weapons issues and commitment to mitigating nuclear dangers, competing domestic priorities pulled his focus from what should have been a top priority, and nuclear hardliners were able to block serious consideration of alternatives that would actively reduce the role of nuclear weapons and prevent another arms race.  

“The review maintains the option to use nuclear weapons first against nuclear-armed states in response to non-nuclear attacks, giving credence to the idea that a nuclear war can be won and fought. It also keeps in place three mechanisms experts know increase the risk a nuclear weapon will be used accidentally: the undemocratic launch processes which gives each president the sole decision-making authority to order the launch of a nuclear weapon, the continued maintenance of vulnerable ground-based ballistic missiles, and the keeping of nuclear weapons on launch-ready, or “day-to-day” alert. 

“The only efforts to curtail nuclear overreach is the cancelation of the sea-launched nuclear cruise missile, and reinstatement of the retirement of the B83 gravity bomb. These are low-hanging course corrections from the Trump administration — not enough to change the course of U.S. nuclear policy away from nuclear warfighting. Even these modest steps are at risk of reversal with hardliners in Congress and the Pentagon calling for unnecessary, expensive, destabilizing capabilities. 

“It doesn’t have to be this way. In 2018, Global Zero released an alternative U.S. Nuclear Posture Review — a vision for U.S. nuclear strategy that would break the status quo and actively reduce the role of nuclear weapons and the risk of their use. Based on credible estimates of Pentagon mission requirements, the report found a nuclear force roughly one-third the size of the current force, with a common-sense prohibition on nuclear first strikes and the force changes that make such a prohibition credible, would provide robust, survivable deterrence for the United States and its allies as leaders pursue a longer-term disarmament agenda

“To Biden’s credit, the administration supports efforts to modernize U.S. nuclear security infrastructure, and vulnerable nuclear command, control, and communications architecture, critical systems to ensure safety and sustainability, pending the global abolition of nuclear weapons. The Review also emphasizes the importance of bilateral and multilateral dialogue and cooperation on nonproliferation, risk reduction and arms control. Importantly, it reiterates U.S. readiness to negotiate a follow-on to the New START agreement with Russia before it expires in 2026, a necessary step to maintain limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals and avoid an unrestrained arms race. 

“The risk that a nuclear weapon will be used is the highest it has been in decades. More can be done to step away from the nuclear cliff, and the United States should commit to take every action, in lock step with allies, to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. It is essential for members of Congress and the public to challenge the assumptions and decisions in the NPR, and demand action to reduce the risk these weapons will be used and make progress toward multilateral, verifiable abolition. There are far more sensible, economical alternatives that deserve serious consideration both inside and outside the Pentagon.”


Correction (11/1/22): The original press statement included an incorrect date range for the U.S. nuclear weapons budget. It is $1.8 trillion over thirty years, not ten.
Thumbnail photo credit: “President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)” under the Creative Commons  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.