The administration is being called on to “make bold decisions to lead us towards a future where nuclear weapons no longer threaten all humanity.”
July 22, 2021
A group of 21 Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday urged President Joe Biden to “reject a 21st century arms race” with key actions including making reductions in the nation’s nuclear arsenal and confirming a no-first-use policy.
The call came in a letter (pdf) led by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.), the co-chairs of the recently formed Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group.
The letter, first reported by The Hill, came as the Biden administration drafts it nuclear weapons doctrine, or Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is expected to take several months.
“We respectfully ask that you directly guide the NPR process to reduce the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, forego development of new nuclear weapons, and develop a saner declaratory policy on nuclear weapons use.”
Referencing Biden’s history as a U.S. senator and vice president when he was “a party to every major nuclear weapons debate of the past five decades,” the lawmakers wrote that from “bolstering the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, to building European support for the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces Treaty, to securing votes for ratification of the New START Treaty, you have consistently been on the right side of history.”
They framed the NPR as “a watershed moment” in which Biden “can reject a 21st century arms race and make bold decisions to lead us towards a future where nuclear weapons no longer threaten all humanity.”
Six recommendations are detailed for inclusion in Biden’s NPR, the first of which references his June joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin affirming that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” As such, the NPR should adjust “declaratory policy to assign a reduced role for U.S. nuclear weapons.”
“We hope that the NPR operationalizes your previously stated view that the United States will not need to fire the first shot in a nuclear conflict,” the lawmakers wrote, “and that it configures its nuclear forces away from that warfighting posture accordingly.”
Biden should also direct the Pentagon “to include in its proposed target list a breakdown of the damage expectancy, civilian casualties, and climatic and humanitarian consequences stemming from nuclear weapons use,” given that even geographically limited nuclear conflict “would be felt by all the planet’s inhabitants.”
The NPR should also assess the quantity and “types of new weapons needed to deter nuclear attack,” taking into consideration previous recommendations from the Government Accountability Office to cancel certain nuclear weapons modernization programs.
Other recommendations include an outside review of the proposed Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) that would cost taxpayers an estimated $264 billion through its life cycle; nixing the two new types of lower yield nuclear weapons called for in 2018 in then-President Donald Trump’s NPR; and committing to “pursuing robust diplomacy with Russia and China on arms control” including through a successor agreement to the New START treaty.
“We respectfully ask that you directly guide the NPR process to reduce the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, forego development of new nuclear weapons, and develop a saner declaratory policy on nuclear weapons use,” the Democrats wrote.
Other signatories to the letter are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), IIhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ami Bera (D-Calif.).
It’s unclear at this time if the forthcoming NPR will lay out any fundamental changes to U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine that anti-nuclear advocates say are sorely needed.
Speaking earlier this month to Politico, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said that the “NPR will be a real test as to whether the Biden administration walks its talk on reducing the role, the number, and the cost of nuclear weapons.”
“Biden also has a responsibility to fundamentally reconsider outdated concepts of how much damage—and how many nuclear weapons—are necessary to deter nuclear threats to the United States and our allies,” Kimball said. “Just a few hundred nuclear weapons could destroy Russia and China, kill hundreds of millions of people, and produce an acute planetary climate catastrophe.”