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Biden steers away from big change to US nuclear weapons policy

Washington’s ‘posture review’ maintains deliberate ambiguity over when arms might be used, Ft.com  Demetri Sevastopulo in Alice Springd\s  25 Mar 2
2,  

President Joe Biden has decided against making a major change to US nuclear weapons policy following pressure from European and Asian allies not to undermine their security amid the nuclear threat from Russia and China.

 After a months-long review that had sparked anxiety from France to Japan, Biden this week decided on a declaratory policy that the “fundamental purpose” of nuclear weapons was to deter, or respond to, a nuclear attack on the US or its allies, according to three people familiar with the decision. 

US allies last year expressed concern following speculation that Biden might declare that the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons was to prevent or respond to a nuclear attack. They said such a change — which Biden supported before becoming president — would weaken the extended deterrence that the US provides to allies around the world with its nuclear umbrella. Critics also argued the potential shift would embolden Russia.  

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https://www.ft.com/content/4c72b45d-37ac-431f-838c-cf8704cad6c3

One senior US official said the allies’ views played a big role in influencing Biden. She said the president had strong views on nuclear risk reduction and might have been considering a larger change in declaratory policy but that he received a lot of input from allied capitals that resulted in the outcome, which was also influenced by the threat from Moscow and growing concerns about China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

 The outcome will be outlined in the administration’s “Nuclear Posture Review”, which is designed to determine what kind of nuclear weapons the US should have and provide guidance about scenarios for possible use.

 The NPR will also say that the US would only use nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances” — echoing language that was included in nuclear reviews conducted by both the Obama and Trump administrations. But the Trump administration arguably lowered the threshold for possible use by saying that “extreme circumstances” could include a non-nuclear attack.  

…………………………………………………….US policy on the situations under which nuclear weapons would be used has been intentionally vague for decades to keep adversaries guessing. The US official said the NPR would contain a level of strategic ambiguity. 

 Arms control advocates wanted Biden to shift to a “no first use” policy or “sole purpose” formulation that they argued would reduce the risk of nuclear war. But critics countered that providing more clarity about when the US would use nuclear weapons would just embolden adversaries. 

 Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said Biden had largely kept existing nuclear posture intact. He said the Obama and Trump administrations had used language about the “fundamental role” of nuclear weapons in their posture reviews.  

“If this is the biggest change in the Nuclear Posture Review, I want my tax money back,” Lewis said. “The phrase reflects a longstanding, bipartisan tradition of trying to have it both ways. US officials want to give the impression that our nuclear weapons are for deterrence while also holding open the option of using them first  ………………………. 

https://www.ft.com/content/4c72b45d-37ac-431f-838c-cf8704cad6c3

March 26, 2022 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

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