Last month the Biden Administration published its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, many months later than expected. The delay was reportedly due to differences over significant aspects of US nuclear policy. Biden’s stated position during his election campaign indicated that Trump’s new nuclear weapons would be abandoned, that reliance on nuclear weapons within US military strategy would be reduced, and that arms control would be revived. He also indicated he would move towards a ‘sole purpose’ policy for nuclear weapons; this means that ‘deterring’ and responding to a nuclear attack would be the sole purpose of the US nuclear arsenal rather than the current nuclear posture which envisages its potential use against a range of threats, including an overwhelming cyber-attack.
The published document falls far short of the hoped for changes. Trump’s submarine-launched cruise missile system is being cancelled, and the B83-1 gravity bomb is being retired, but Trump’s ‘usable’ nuke, the W76-2 is being retained, in spite of it being described as ‘unnecessary, wasteful and indefensible’ in the 2020 Democratic Party manifesto. ‘Sole purpose’ has not been adopted, and full-scope ‘Triad’ replacement and other nuclear modernisation programmes are taking place.
The hard-fought debate within the Administration on the shape and outcomes of the NPR has been affected by the wider goals of the US National Security Strategy and its orientation to maintaining US global dominance through military might. The ongoing war in Ukraine has strengthened the hand of those arguing within the Administration for increased nuclear weapons production and strategic role. In this context, the stated intention of both the US and Russia to negotiate a follow on to the New START Treaty is to be welcomed but there is an enormous amount of work required, here and internationally, to bring nuclear weapons states into line with the global majority through the TPNW.