In its new National Defense Strategy that was released Thursday, the Pentagon has dropped limits regarding the use of nuclear weapons that have long been supported by arms control advocates and previously by President Joe Biden.
According to the document, “by the 2030s the United States will, for the first time in its history face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries.” In response to facing the nuclear powers of Russia and China, the U.S. will, “maintain a very high bar for nuclear employment” but the new strategy does not rule out using nuclear weapons to retaliate against non-nuclear strategic threats against the U.S. homeland, forces abroad, or U.S. allies.
While Biden promised in his 2020 presidential campaign to only use nuclear weapons to deter or respond to a nuclear threat, his views have clearly changed given the recent growing threat of nuclear war between Russia and Ukraine with China not far behind.
According to the report, the Biden administration said of the nuclear policy that “No First Use” or “Sole Purpose” policies “would result in an unacceptable level of risk in light of the range of non-nuclear capabilities being developed and fielded by competitors that could inflict strategic-level damage.”
The revised strategy comes amid growing threats from Russia that it will use nuclear weapons in its illegal invasion and takeover of Ukraine, although on Thursday, Russian president, Vladimir Putin told foreign policy analysts, “We don’t need a nuclear strike on Ukraine — there is no point, either militarily or political.”
Meanwhile, China is the U.S.’s “most consequential strategic competitor for coming decades,” according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who wrote a letter introducing the new National Defense Strategy. The new strategy cites China as wanting to have at least 1,000 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2030 and could use them for “coercive purposes, including military provocations against US allies and partners in the region.”
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The u-turn on the National Defense Strategy is not the first time that Biden has flirted with changing long-standing US policies. In September the White House had to scramble to walk back comments Biden made in an interview on CBS “60 Minutes” regarding the U.S. defending Taiwan if China were to attack or invade the island. Biden’s comments directly conflicted with Washington’s long-time “One China” policy which does not directly support Taiwan’s political independence from China.