Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review and Desire for “No-First-Use”

The United States started its Nuclear Posture Review in July of 2021. The NPR dictates nuclear policy decisions for the current administration. The international community is worried that the Biden Administration will switch to a “no first use” declaration in regard to nuclear weapons. In an effort to limit nuclear importance, this would limit the role nuclear weapons would play in military strategy and place more weight on other policies. According to the Financial Times, allies of the United States are worried that this policy change could undermine deterrence against China and Russia, which could result in greater nuclear use concerns.

President Biden has said that “the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack.” Beyond this, he has made it clear that he wants the United States’ nuclear program to shrink. While no allied politicians have spoken publicly about the worry regarding a no-first-use policy, the Financial Times reports that “More than a dozen European and Asian officials and critics on Capitol Hill told the Financial Times that allied fears have risen as the posture review nears its conclusion, which is expected by the end of the year.” Furthermore, Republicans also seem perturbed by the idea of implementing a no-first- use policy. James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee stated “Sole purpose’ nuclear policy is just ‘no-first-use’ by another name, and to even consider adopting either is a complete betrayal of our allies.”

Those in favor of a no-first-use policy argue that the United States basically has a de facto no-first-use policy already. An op-ed written by Kingston Reif makes it clear that keeping a nuclear option on the table is dangerous and unnecessary while the United States and its allies could counter an attack using conventional weapons. While allies fear that a no-first-use policy could give China and Russia the upper hand, it could actually help to decrease nuclear tensions. Since the United States already holds a strikingly similar policy, it could thereby promote nuclear de-emphasis to other nations. 

A no-first-use policy is when a country promises it will not launch nuclear weapons first, but only in retaliation if nuclear weapons are used against them. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are some countries that have a no-first-use policy already, such as China. Russia used to have a no-first-use policy but switched in the 1990s. India has a conditional no-first-use policy. No-first-use policies are widely recognized, but in actuality, rely on goodwill and faith that countries will keep to their promises.

As the Nuclear Posture review continues to be formulated by the Biden Administration, the full scope of their nuclear pullback will not be outlined until early 2022. Until then, further analysis on the benefits and drawbacks of a no-first-use policy should be better analyzed. As the United States remains a top world power with powerful nuclear capabilities, this policy would help lower the threat of nuclear weapons worldwide. If the United States maintains strong relationships with its allies and keeps them informed on nuclear decisions, a new policy could create a world less prone to nuclear warfare.