On Oct. 27, the Biden administration released its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). This public document marked a unique opportunity for the president to fulfill his nuclear policy reform commitments and to move away from the traditional cold-war thinking that has dominated U.S. national security policy for decades.
While we commend the president’s decision to cancel and retire some of the most unnecessary and dangerous weapons in the arsenal, we regret that the NPR fails to push nuclear weapons policy in a new direction and instead commits the United States to a nuclear future.
How the NPR Fails to Meet the Moment
Earlier this year, FCNL and 23 of our interfaith partners urged the president to follow through with his previous commitments to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S national security policy:
We believe it is both deeply immoral and highly irrational to threaten mass civilian casualties and risk planetary annihilation as a way of keeping Americans safe… Continuing to embrace nuclear weapons as an essential part of U.S. national security strategy contradicts your own recognition that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
Despite the president’s own stark recognition that the world could face “armageddon” because of these weapons, especially if Vladimir Putin uses tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the document endorses the same status quo strategies. This includes:
- Rushing tactical nuclear weapons to Europe.
- Doubling down on the Pentagon’s $2 trillion plan to build a new generation of weapons and revamp old ones.
- Backing off from earlier commitments to only use nuclear weapons to deter or respond to nuclear threats or nuclear use by an adversary.
- Affirming the need for a “nuclear triad” of ground, air, and sea launched weapons.
- Calling out Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran for their nuclear ambitions while refusing to rule out U.S. first use of nuclear weapons.
The Biden NPR puts emphasis on nuclear arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and risk reduction, recognizing that the New START treaty with Russia is set to expire in 2024.
The document also justifies the president’s decision to cancel the sea-launched nuclear cruise missile (SLCM-N) and retire the B83 gravity bomb. The most powerful nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal, the B83 can cause an explosion roughly 80 times more powerful than the one the United States dropped on Hiroshima.
The sea-launched nuclear cruise missile, which the U.S. Navy said it did not want or need, was retired from the U.S. arsenal in 2013 before President Trump re-started the program.
The Path Forward
For those of us who have been working towards a world free from nuclear weapons, the NPR is disappointing but not surprising. It affirms a terrifying new reality: once thought of as Cold War relics, nuclear weapons never really went away, and the world’s militaries are preparing for a future defined by nuclear war.
That reality reaffirms the importance of FCNL’s push for arms control, disarmament, and total elimination. In the words of Mari Faines, Partner for Mobilization at Global Zero:
It is our job as people who work toward better forms of national security and foreign policy to keep communities safe. When things “don’t go our way” or stay the status quo, don’t get mad or throw in the towel… Recoup, reorganize, find your partners, be bold and resilient, and most importantly, continue the work. People deserve it.
Together with our network of activists and organizers across the country, we will continue our persistent, prophetic and powerful efforts to convince Congress that there is a better way to keep Americans – and all people – healthy and safe.