by Steve Gallant
Possibly as early as this month, we will see the results of the Biden Administrations Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which sets nuclear strategic policy for the US. Deliberations are behind closed doors. Bad signs so far include the removal of a presumed “No First Use (NFU)” policy advocate, Leonor Tomero, from the committees, as well as press leaks that argue against an NFU policy. However, Biden’s previous statements, when Vice-President and during the campaign, give hope for at least a declaratory policy that the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons is to deter a first strike and to retaliate if attacked. Sole purpose is not as strong as a clear NFU declaration, but would be a big step in the right direction. It would unblock progress in disarmament and arms control, as well as reviving legislative efforts to mandate an NFU policy.
A hopeful point is that Biden went against his “sage” advisors in withdrawing from Afghanistan, rather than continuing that horrid war. This was a laudable decision. Thus there is at least some chance he will want to land on the right side of history, and declare some sort of No First Use policy and engage in arms control efforts. However, most analysts are predicting that the NPR will be a weak statement, while it may get rid of a few new weapons systems started by Trump.
On the first work day of the new year, the White House released a statement by the 5 original nuclear weapon states, called the P5 (US, Russia, China, England, France) on “Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races”.
On the negative side, this P5 statement commits to no specific disarmament steps. These same leaders are spending billions to upgrade and in some cases expand their genocidal nuclear arsenals. They are recklessly engaged in provocative military operations in which accidents or miscalculations could trigger nuclear holocausts.
On the positive side, the P5 statement contains several points that go in the right direction:
- The countries “consider the avoidance of war between Nuclear-Weapon States and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.”
- The P5 commit to the “Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, including our Article VI obligation ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.’”
- The ultimate goal is “a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all.”
Producing such statements, along with recent dialogues, between the US and Russia, give some justification for optimism.
Activists in MAPA and other organizations continue to try to exert influence toward a No First Use policy, which is both declared by the President and legislated by Congress. These include call-in campaigns to Congress and to Biden, a letter campaign (over 2,000 letters) to Pelosi and Schumer to bring forth NFU bills, numerous webinars, letters to the editor (several published in major newspapers), an impressive open letter to Biden organized by Physicians For Social Responsibility, and possibly another No First Use Conference planned for May 14.
Press reports have indicated that there is at least a debate within the Administration on issuing a “sole purpose” declaration. We need to keep up the pressure.
— Steve Gallant is a member of MAPA’s Nuclear Disarmament Working Group. He chaired the program committee for the Prohibiting the First Use of Nuclear Weapons conference in May 2021 and will do so again for the next conference, tentatively to be held on May 14, 2022.