Their public warning, which comes weeks before the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review is supposed to wrap up, underscores how politically challenging it will be for President Joe Biden to make major reforms to U.S. nuclear strategy or upend long-term plans that were mostly codified in the Obama administration to upgrade land-based nuclear missiles, submarines and bombers.
“Reports that the Biden administration is considering abandoning long-overdue and much-needed improvements to our nation’s nuclear deterrent – when China is massively expanding its nuclear arsenal, North Korea is flagrantly violating UN sanctions on its missile program, and Russia is poised to launch the largest invasion in Europe since World War II – are profoundly concerning, and if true, would only invite further aggression,” the lawmakers said.
Biden, who has said he believes the United States maintains more nuclear arms than needed, has been under pressure from arms control groups and some leading Democrats in Congress to follow through on his pledge when he became president to “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”
Bipartisan argument: But the GOP lawmakers make the case that existing plans to add the weapons also have widespread support among top military leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as well members of Congress in both parties, and among foreign allies that rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for their own defense.
“Over the past year, our committees heard from the nation’s leading defense and nuclear experts, including from within the current administration,” they said. “Their stark warnings on the threats we face were sobering — and their clear advice, from Secretary Austin on down, was to continue along the path of modernization.”
They added that “an overwhelming bipartisan majority supported continuing all aspects” of nuclear modernization plans in defense policy legislation signed last month by Biden.
Despite resistance from some Democrats to the wholesale overhaul of the nuclear arsenal, the defense policy bill backs the administration’s funding request for new weapon systems, such as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, and warhead modernization programs.
The bill also included $15.5 million that Biden requested for research and development of a Nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile, one of the main “add ons” pursued by the Trump administration that POLITICO reported could be on the chopping block.
Other Trump-era additions were the W76-2 “low yield” warhead outfitted on submarines in 2019 and the B83 gravity bomb that was revived by the 2018 review after being slated for retirement.
A 'wiser' path: In addition to weapons, the GOP defense leaders also raised concerns that Biden could still decide to change U.S. policy on the role of nuclear weapons, including adopting a “no first use” policy or declaring that nuclear weapons are only to deter other nuclear weapons.
“When reports surfaced that the Biden administration was considering departing from long-standing nuclear policies that have deterred major wars and the use of nuclear weapons for over seventy years,” the lawmakers said in their statement, “U.S. allies across the globe joined a bipartisan chorus in Congress to urge the administration to take a wiser, more measured path."
“It’s almost incomprehensible that even now,” they concluded, “in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary, bipartisan congressional, allied and expert opposition, and a security environment that seems to get worse by the day, the Biden administration continues to look for opportunities to weaken the ultimate guarantee of our nation’s and our allies’ security.”
The Pentagon and White House declined to comment on the status of the nuclear review, which is expected to be completed next month.