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Jun 6, 2024, 6:38pm EDT
security

US to adopt more ‘competitive’ nuclear weapons strategy

Senior Airman Mark Sulaica/Department of Defense
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The Scoop

The Biden administration will announce its intention to embrace a more assertive nuclear weapons strategy on Friday, after China and Russia spurned US efforts to discuss arms control over the past year.

The US believes it needs “to adopt a more competitive approach to non-proliferation and arms control” in light of rising global tensions, and “make certain adjustments to our posture and capabilities,” a senior administration official told Semafor. Pranay Vaddi of the National Security Council is expected to outline the new direction at an arms control conference Friday.

At the same gathering last year, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced that the US was willing to discuss arms control with China and Russia “without preconditions.” But Beijing and Moscow have effectively rejected those overtures, forcing the US to shift its approach, the official said.

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The administration still hopes to bring its geopolitical rivals to the negotiating table, but wants to show there will be consequences for rebuffing talks, the official added. Russia and China “will face a diminished security environment if they continue to refuse to engage,” they said.

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While they offered relatively few specifics about future policy changes, the official told Semafor that the administration’s increasingly forceful thinking was reflected in decisions to develop a new nuclear gravity bomb and efforts to extend the life of some Ohio-class nuclear submarines.

The administration is also considering how US nuclear forces may have to evolve further when facing rising nuclear threats, and working to ensure that key allies have long-range strike capabilities and surveillance abilities needed to defend themselves, the official said.

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The White House is also starting to lay the groundwork for the key nuclear issues Biden would face if he is reelected. While the US and Russia remain bound legally by the New START treaty, the last agreement limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is set to expire in 2026.

“If there’s a second term, a key consideration for our administration is how we approach that date, February 6, 2026,” the official said. “We have to think about an environment in which we’re unconstrained, but so is Russia, and so is China.”

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Notable

  • North Korea has “ghosted” the Biden administration on nuclear weapons talks, Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch wrote.
  • The UN’s nuclear watchdog urged Iran to cooperate on nuclear transparency this week.
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