The Biden Administration’s ‘Sole Purpose’ Nuclear Mistake

November 9, 2021 10:05, Last Updated: November 10, 2021 13:45
By Rick Fisher


“Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake,” is one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s contributions to military strategy. But China is doing one turn better, loudly advocating for President Joe Biden to make a crucial strategic nuclear mistake, perhaps to be included in the next Nuclear Posture Review due in early 2022.

Apparently, Biden seeks to declare nuclear deterrence and, if needed, nuclear retaliation, as the “sole purpose” of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal. Such a declaration would almost amount to an adoption of a “no first use” (NFU) nuclear weapons doctrine.

Nine days before leaving the Office of the Vice President on Jan. 11, 2017, Biden gave remarks on “Nuclear Security” in which he endorsed both concepts:

“In our 2010 Nuclear Posture Review—we made a commitment to create the conditions by which the sole purpose of nuclear weapons would be to deter others from launching a nuclear attack.

“Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats—it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”

Biden’s nuclear doctrine change also was enshrined in the 2020 Democratic Party platform: “Democrats believe that the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal should be to deter—and, if necessary, retaliate against—a nuclear attack, and we will work to put that belief into practice, in consultation with our allies and military.”

However, U.S. military leaders and U.S. allies opposed the Obama administration’s attempt in 2016 to advance an NFU nuclear doctrine, and this year campaigned against Biden’s attempt to limit the deterrent potential of U.S. nuclear forces with a “sole purpose” declaration.

On Oct. 30, the Financial Review reported that NATO allies Britain, France, and Germany, and Pacific allies Japan and Australia were “lobbying” the Biden administration “not to change American policy on the use of nuclear weapons amid concern the president is considering a ‘no first use’ declaration that could undermine long-established deterrence strategies aimed at Russia and China.”

What is crucial is that U.S. allies in Europe and Asia face both overwhelming nuclear and non-nuclear threats, and they rely on the counterthreat of an American nuclear first strike to deter both.

Russia is amassing troops, likely to practice mobilizing for an invasion of Ukraine, and its military buildup in Kaliningrad poses a daily threat to the Baltic States and to Poland. Russia is also officially estimated to have 2,000 theater nuclear weapons as it develops, or may already possess, a new class of very-low-yield nuclear weapons for direct battlefield use.

North Korea may have more than 60 nuclear weapons, and now maneuverable hypersonic warheads, submarine-launched medium-range missiles, and new land-attack cruise missiles to deliver them to South Korea or Japan, in addition to an army of 1.1 million troops, versus South Korea’s army of 464,000 and no nuclear weapons.

Then there’s China’s rapidly increasing threat. On Nov. 3, the Pentagon released the first congressionally mandated annual China Military Power Report (CMPR) under the Biden administration leadership, and it states that China could have 700 nuclear warheads by 2027 and 1,000 warheads by 2030.

But the CMPR assessment is much lower than what can be estimated from open sources. Since the early summer, commercial satellite imagery has revealed that China is now racing to build about 350 new silos for new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could initially carry up to 10 warheads.

China’s DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2019. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

This means that China’s intercontinental nuclear warhead count could exceed 3,000 intercontinental-range warheads before the end of the 2020s.

Given its increasing conventional cooperation and near decade-long cooperation regarding missile defense, it must be assessed that Russia could add its 1,400 or more nuclear warheads to support joint nuclear missile “offense” and blackmail exercises against the United States.

But right after taking office, Biden extended the New START treaty, committing the United States to only 1,550 deployed warheads until 2026.

China may be betting that joint nuclear blackmail can prevent U.S. military opposition to a Chinese attack against the island democracy of Taiwan. China’s buildup of missile and air strike forces, modern mechanized army and marine units, and formal and informal naval amphibious lift, points to the conclusion that China will soon, if not already, be able to launch a D-Day-scale invasion against Taiwan.

So in Europe, on the Korean Peninsula, in the Sea of Japan, and in the Taiwan Strait, any U.S. change in declared nuclear policies that would diminish or remove the possibility of a United States first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict would only serve to increase the temptation for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un to start wars against America’s key allies and partners.

That’s why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) enthusiastically supports an American adoption of a nuclear NFU policy. In an Oct. 31 article, the Global Times, the “inner voice” of the CCP, gushed:

“The US was about to nail the [NFU] adjustment during former president Barack Obama’s tenure. … If Biden can really take the step to announce ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons or take pragmatic measures to restrain US nuclear policies, the move will be widely welcomed across the globe.”

That is, especially in Beijing, Moscow, Pyongyang, and soon, in Tehran.

Without immediate reassessment and a plan to leave the restrictive 2010 New START nuclear treaty with Russia, a plan to replace nuclear warheads reduced from U.S. missiles to comply with that treaty, and plans to rapidly expand U.S. theater nuclear forces, the United States will be vulnerable before the end of the decade to China–Russia nuclear blackmail, and its allies and partners will be vulnerable to existential attacks by China, Russia, and North Korea.

A Biden administration decision to remove the threat of an immediate U.S. nuclear counterattack in response to Chinese, Russian, and North Korean existential aggression would only serve to accelerate their decisions to start such wars and, therefore, would be a tragic strategic mistake.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Rick Fisher is a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

View on