The United State’s long-standing nuclear defense strategy involves using the country’s arsenal to deter other countries from developing the capability of creating, testing or deploying atomic weapons — a practice formally known as hedging. Former President Barack Obama ignored that posture, but President Donald Trump’s administration reinvoked that position in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. President Joe Biden recently spearheaded the deletion of five words from the US’s current nuclear doctrine, instead favoring a less powerful position.
On October 27, the Defense Department (DOD) announced the release of several 2022 strategic documents, including its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review. In a departure from the Trump Administration’s position, Biden officials removed the role of America’s nuclear arsenal as a “hedge against an uncertain future.”
As vice president and on the 2020 campaign trail, Biden supported an alternative theory to nuclear defense called the “sole purpose doctrine,” meaning he only advocates using nuclear weapons as a deterrent or response to a nuclear attack. That position negates the DOD’s ability to threaten or launch a first strike.
US allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have opposed this “no first use” policy, fearing the US would only use its full might during a nuclear conflict, thus encouraging bad actors like Russia and China to resort to other forms of devastating attacks.
The deliberate removal of those five words may seem minor at first glance. In reality, they show Biden moving towards implementing his sole purpose doctrine, potentially making the world far less safe, especially considering China and Russia’s recent efforts to expand their own nuclear arsenals.