Biden has already agreed to renew the last remaining nuclear deal with Russia, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and has called for further negotiations with Moscow to set new boundaries for the world’s largest arsenals. And the group of arms control experts he hires to carry out his agenda is the vanguard of a decade-long push to withdraw from the nuclear fringes and seek elimination of nuclear weapons.
“The stars are aligned,” said Joe Cirincione, a veteran non-proliferation attorney who oversaw a number of Biden’s tips. “The five-year extension of New START is just the opening game. This is going to be quite a show.”
However, former Trump officials predict that a new reality will strike those appointed as they learn more about real-world threats, including China’s great nuclear build-up in recent years.
“I think a lot of these people who go into government will finally get classified information about what China is up to,” said Tim Morrison, who oversaw the arms control portfolio on the National Security Council under Trump and is now at the Hudson Institute. “I want to be a fly in the room. The paint will drain off their faces, they will sit back in their chairs and they will say ‘oh s —‘.”
Under Trump, the United States significantly increased spending on nuclear weapons and also deployed a new submarine warhead, citing Russian and Chinese nuclear structures and more aggressive efforts by North Korea to expand its arsenal and develop more advanced long-range missiles.
Others see Biden’s willingness to accept Russia’s offer to extend New START for a full five years without preconditions as a worrying sign that the new team will not be tough enough for the Russians.
“I think this is a bad signal and suggests that Biden could be a pushover when it comes to things like that because even those who still see value in New START agree that there are some things that the United States should be pushing, “former Republican Senator Jon Kyl, a leading arms control treaty skeptic, said in an interview.
Trump’s chief arms control negotiator, former Ambassador Marshall Billingslea, also criticizes Biden’s first move.
“They gave away all the leverage they had to gain additional arms control,” he said. “I am not at all clear what further interest the Russians have in negotiating something with the Biden government.”
But the team advising Biden has great ambitions. One of the leading actors is Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, an Obama State Department veteran who coordinated efforts to combat the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. She was appointed State Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
Jenkins has recently argued In declaring a “no-first-use” policy on nuclear weapons, arms control advocates consider an important step in reducing nuclear tensions.
“We’re trying to say,” We won’t attack you with a nuclear weapon unless you attack us with a nuclear weapon, “she said on a podcast this month.” This is the direction in which it went. In 2018 we took a few steps back. We have added all of these conditions under which we can actually use a nuclear weapon. We went backwards. “
It is joined by a growing number of advanced national security experts who have advocated some of the most drastic changes in US nuclear policy in recent years.
For example, several key players in the new administration have ties to the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Center, the research arm of the Liberal Council for a World Worth Living, which aims to “reduce and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons.”
Alexandra Bell, a former State Department official who most recently served as the centre’s political director, has been appointed deputy assistant secretary of state in the arms control, scrutiny and compliance office. Leonor Tomero, former chief attorney for the House Armed Services Committee who was the director of the think tank, will oversee the nuclear and missile defense programs for the undersecretary of defense policy.
Meanwhile, Mallory Stewart, the new senior director of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation on the National Security Council, is a longtime national security official and think tank scholar who served on the centre’s board of directors. Others associated with the organization include Colin Kahl, Biden’s candidate for Pentagon policy chief who is an advisor.
“They want to reduce the risk of a nuclear disaster,” said former MP John Tierney, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, calling their new influence “a huge win for the State Department.” and indeed any person on the planet is possible who believes that a world is free from nuclear threats. “
“They want as much reasonable, verifiable arms control as possible to reduce the risk of a nuclear disaster,” he added.
Other actors in arms control include Sasha Baker, director of strategic planning for the NSC. She is a former national security adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren, a senior attorney in the Chamber on Reducing the Size of the American Arsenal.
“She is probably the person who will rewrite the national security strategy,” Darryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, one of the leading disarmament groups, said of Baker.
Many of Biden’s arms control advisors strongly believe the US wants to modernize all three parts of the nuclear triad – bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles. is more extensive and more expensive than necessary to deter nuclear opponents.
They are expected to review the nuclear modernization portfolio, the cost of which is expected to be higher half a trillion dollars in the next decade alone and much more after that. They will almost certainly try to kill a new “low-yield” nuclear warhead that the Trump administration has armed with submarines.
You are also likely to find more allies in a democratically controlled Congress.
“I think [Biden] is in a position to change our doctrine on nuclear weapons, “said Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), member of the Foreign Relations Committee and leading advocate on spending cuts on nuclear weapons, in an interview.
He also believes the need for arms control “has only grown because of the last four years with Donald Trump”.
“We can see how quickly our relationship with other nuclear forces can become much more strained and dangerous,” said Markey. “We cannot afford nuclear weapons overkill.”
Tomero’s former boss, Rep. Adam Smith, is now chairman of the Armed Forces Committee. Smith, a leading national security advocate in Congress, has been one of the vocal advocates of cutting the nuclear budget.
“There’s a good opportunity if you add that Adam Smith clearly sees that this entire modernization plan as it is currently projected is going to be way too expensive,” said Tierney.
“We don’t need any of the new weapons that Trump has used,” he added [Biden] was clear when he ran. There is no reason why we should develop new classes of weapons and nuclear warheads. That is destabilizing and only leads to an arms race and makes everyone less safe. “
However, the political and diplomatic obstacles to Biden’s agenda are also enormous, whether Washington is trying to revive arms control agreements or pursue new ones with Russia, Iran, North Korea or China, or curtail US plans to upgrade its own arsenal and play the role of the Nuclear power to reduce weapons in the American strategy.
“Some of the aspirations, some of the idealized goals of some of its bases, may not get them what they want,” said Morrison, the former NSC official for the Trump administration.
Peter Huessy, director of strategic deterrent studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, who is backed by the defense industry, also worries that the United States lacks enough experienced negotiators to replicate some of the Cold War arms control successes.
“If we don’t have a professional cadre of arms negotiators, we lose institutional memory and understanding of the moves the Russians use and the pranks they play in negotiations,” he said.