Now Is Not the Time for Biden to Weaken U.S. Nuclear Resolve
By Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI)
January 26, 2022
Russia is building a massive invasion force on Ukraine’s border, China is rehearsing air strikes on Taiwan, and both Moscow and Beijing are racing to construct newer and larger nuclear arsenals. Nuclear weapons are central to their revisionist military strategies. Maintaining a strong deterrent and stronger alliances must continue to be central to ours.
Consequently, it is concerning that in the face of not one, but two major nuclear threats, the Biden administration is considering adopting policies that explicitly de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy. Any change in U.S. nuclear declaratory policy, the public articulation of the circumstances in which it would employ nuclear weapons, especially now as the Russian army amasses on the Ukrainian border, sends the worst possible signal both to Vladimir Putin and to U.S. allies and partners.
While the Biden administration has reportedly — and rightly — rejected a “no first use” nuclear-weapons policy, still on the table is a “sole purpose” nuclear declaratory policy, which has no precedent in the history of U.S. nuclear policy. A sole-purpose policy states that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack. But the policy’s goal is the same as a no-first-use policy — to demonstrate U.S. goodwill by removing nuclear options in its defense strategy.
America’s allies protested loudly when the Obama administration, with then–vice president Joe Biden, considered these policies in 2010 and 2016. President Obama, after careful consideration of allied views and the best advice of his military leaders, rejected these policies then, and President Biden should reject them now.
But there is another reason that the Biden administration should reject any change in U.S. nuclear declaratory policy: Changing U.S. nuclear policy now would signal weakness of resolve in the face of growing Russian and Chinese nuclear and nonnuclear threats.
The facts are plain, if alarming. Russia is engaged in a significant nuclear buildup concentrated in its “nonstrategic” forces for warfighting in a regional context. Its “escalate to win” strategy envisions threatening or employing nuclear weapons first if it appears to be losing a conventional conflict.
Not to be outdone, China is building hundreds of new ICBM silos and recently tested a weapon system that reportedly can orbit the earth, release projectiles along its flight path, and then make terminal maneuvers as it approaches its final target while avoiding U.S. missile defenses.
Indeed, nonnuclear threats that the United States and its allies wish to deter have only grown in the past decade. North Korea has “up to several thousand metric tons” of chemical weapons at its disposal, while Russia’s vast chemical-weapons program threatens U.S. and allied forces in NATO. China’s military medical institutions are apparently interested in the military applications of pharmaceutical-based agents.
The Biden administration should heed calls from our allies, learn the lessons of history, and resist urges from the fringe to change U.S. nuclear declaratory policy. Russia and China are watching the U.S. nuclear-policy-making process with great interest, hopeful that the United States will adopt a new policy that relieves them from worrying about a U.S. response to their aggression.
Just as the U.S. commitment to defend itself and its allies is unwavering, so too must U.S. nuclear policy remain consistent. As President Eisenhower warned, America’s alliance commitments would be untenable if we did not “possess atomic weapons and the will to use them when necessary."
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