In a surprising turn of events, President Biden's nuclear policy has deviated from his earlier promises, signaling a significant shift in the administration's approach. Contrary to Biden's longstanding commitment to de-emphasize nuclear weapons and prioritize arms control, recent developments reveal a departure from these principles.
Biden's Evolving Stance
Biden's historical stance, dating back to 1990, emphasized the diminishing military rationale for the first use of nuclear weapons. During his 2020 presidential campaign, he advocated for a narrower scope of nuclear weapon deployment, emphasizing deterrence and retaliation against a nuclear attack. However, the current administration has strayed from these commitments, opting for a more expansive role of nuclear deterrence, even in conventional warfare.
The Geopolitical Landscape
The shift in Biden's approach can be attributed to a complex geopolitical landscape. Satellite revelations of China's clandestine nuclear buildup, coupled with Putin's aggressive actions in Ukraine and suspension of Russia's participation in New START, have compelled the U.S. to reassess its nuclear strategy. The need to deter not one but two near-peer nuclear powers, as highlighted by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, has become a focal point.
Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal
Acknowledging the evolving threats, the Biden administration has embarked on a robust nuclear modernization program, allocating nearly $800 billion over the next decade. This includes the development of a new B61 gravity nuclear bomb variant and the deployment of a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea. These measures aim to bolster conventional deterrence in the face of an increasingly intertwined China-Russia defense alliance.
A Delicate Balancing Act
Despite assurances that the U.S. is only modernizing, not expanding, its nuclear arsenal, concerns linger. The endorsement of Trump-era initiatives, such as the W76-2 lower-yield warhead, raises eyebrows among arms-control advocates. The administration's insistence on the need for extended deterrence to protect allies in Asia and Europe underscores the delicate balancing act required in this new era of nuclear dynamics.
Escalating Arms Race
The interconnectedness of China and Russia in defense technology cooperation adds fuel to the fire. The administration's reluctance to commit to a "no-first-use" policy and the introduction of low-yield tactical weapons further intensify the risk of blurring the lines between conventional and nuclear warfare, echoing Putin's strategy in Ukraine.
The Road Ahead
As President Biden engages in talks with Xi in San Francisco, the focus on re-establishing military-to-military communication and preventing AI-driven miscalculations underscores the urgency of addressing the evolving threats. However, a comprehensive deal to reverse the current nuclear escalation seems elusive, with both nuclear powers locked in a tit-for-tat spiral.
In navigating the complex terrain of nuclear policy, President Biden faces a delicate balance between modernization, deterrence, and the specter of a renewed arms race. The evolving dynamics between the U.S., China, and Russia demand strategic clarity and diplomatic finesse to prevent a descent into Cold War-era brinkmanship. Only time will reveal the efficacy of Biden's pivot in the face of an increasingly uncertain global security landscape.