Biden’s sweeping shift in nuclear weapons policy favors China

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Many expect the Biden administration to announce a sweeping policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons soon. The policy, which would replace that adopted in the 1940s, is expected to be part of the review of the administration’s nuclear posture, expected before the end of the year.

American allies, the Financial Time reports, are deeply concerned. Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Australia, all partners in the US treaty, are pressing hard on the Biden administration not to adopt a “no-use-first” policy. “. “The allies are basically, in unison, collectively panicking,” “a senior congressional source” told the newspaper. “They don’t believe their many and repeated overtures are being reported to the directors of the Biden administration and to the president himself.”

The disarmament community has long wanted the United States to declare that it will never use nuclear weapons first in conflict. The administration may not announce No First Use, but it is possible, if not likely, that they will opt for a “Sole Purpose” policy.

“I think the sole purpose of America’s nuclear arsenal should be to deter – and, if necessary, respond to – a nuclear attack,” Joe Biden said. wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2020.

“‘One-purpose’ nuclear policy is just ‘no priority use’ under any other name, and even to consider adopting one or the other is a complete betrayal of our allies,” James said. Risch, the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

China has announced a no first use policy. Abusers tend to favor this approach and urge their intended victims to adopt it as well. from China World time, signaling Beijing’s own position, published an October 31 editorial with the headline: “US Should Announce ‘No First Use Of Nuclear Weapons’ Without Any Conditions. “

“No First Use provides our enemies with a sanctuary in which their forces and military resources remain safe from the threat of a nuclear strike,” said Peter Huessy of the Air Force Association and GeoStrategic Analysis. News week.

“This gives the enemy the initiative if they wish to go nuclear as part of an escalation-to-win strategy, and seriously undermines the extensive nuclear deterrence we are providing to our NATO and Pacific allies. western, ”Huessy said. “It would be a huge gift for China and Russia,” a “European official” noted at the FT, referring to the separate possibility for President Biden to adopt either no primary use or exclusive use.

Aggressors have conventional superiority in today’s hot spots – the Baltic States, Taiwan and South Korea, to name a few – so the US threat to use nuclear weapons deters conventional strikes, Huessy said.

Arms control advocates have argued that nuclear weapons do not in fact act as a deterrent. The risk of an “uncontrollable and potentially suicidal escalation” is so high that the threat of using nuclear weapons “lacks credibility”, wrote Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, in 2016.

The first use is American doctrine for as long as the United States has had the bomb. And this doctrine has saved lives. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, horrific as they were, clearly shortened World War II by preventing an invasion of the Japanese homeland.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on November 03, 2021 in Washington, DC
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

These weapons have also helped avert a world war since then. The Soviet Union, which possessed a much larger conventional force, never sent its divisions through the Fulda Gap, and most analysts attributed Moscow’s reluctance to start World War III to the threat of annihilation by America. Reagan’s success in convincing NATO to base nuclear-tipped Pershing missiles on European soil in the 1980s forced the Soviets to back down.

The alternative to not using it first is a rapid and sustained build-up of conventional forces to deter Chinese Xi Jinping, Russian Vladimir Putin and North Korean Kim Jong-un. Unfortunately, no-first-use proponents generally do not advocate accelerated spending programs for conventional capabilities.

In the summer of 2016, the Obama administration was on the verge of announcing No First Use. In the end, he didn’t, and the factor that seemed to have influenced President Obama was the fear of destabilizing an already tense situation in the world. Today, China and Russia have made the world much more unstable than it was five years ago.

In any case, many don’t really believe China’s overt promises not to use first-time use. Huessy, for example, calls the Beijing announcements “fantastic”.

He is absolutely right. Beijing has regularly unprovoked threats to cremate US cities, says former Chinese disarmament diplomat Sha Zukang issued a public warning that China was going to blow up Taiwan and since July, Chinese propaganda has been talking about launching nuclear weapons in Japanese and Australian cities. With the exception of America, none of these possible targets is a nuclear power.

What, despite all these factors, would recommend a change in US nuclear policy? “Nuclear weapons are not weapons of war,” said Arthur Waldron of the University of Pennsylvania. News week after the FT report. “America should have a no-use-first policy coupled with strong deterrence and second-strike capabilities. “

“I believe that just as Britain and France have an independent nuclear deterrent from the United States, so do Japan, Australia and maybe Taiwan and South Korea, which are also facing to direct nuclear threats, “said Waldron, a historian of China. “Small nuclear arsenals in the region would greatly reduce the possibility of conflict in Asia, as they have done in Europe.”

Taiwan is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore has no obligation to refrain from possessing nuclear weapons. Japan, Australia and South Korea, however, are signatories and are not allowed to have nuclear weapons. They have, at least so far, felt safe under the US “nuclear umbrella” – the US commitment to use its nuclear arsenal to defend them.

Now, however, they don’t feel so secure, and a shift to No First Use would only further undermine their confidence in America’s ability to defend them, especially if Biden abandon modernization of America’s aging nuclear arsenal, as some members of its administration also suggest.

Waldron’s idea, envisioning a substantial spread of nuclear weapons to deter China, would horrify supporters of arms control. Yet such a spread is the inevitable result of weak non-proliferation efforts. The United States had the means to stop China in the 1970s from giving the bomb to Pakistan and then to stop Pakistan from spreading Chinese technology to regimes like Iran and North Korea. But the United States has done next to nothing at all.

Proponents of arms control of course abhor proliferation, but they have never been able to answer this question: why should China’s totalitarian proxies be allowed to possess nuclear weapons when democratic allies of America are not?

Gordon G. Chang is the author of China’s impending collapse. Follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChang.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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