Home News U.S. considers expanding nuclear arsenal, reversing decades of nuclear cuts

U.S. considers expanding nuclear arsenal, reversing decades of nuclear cuts

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A senior Biden administration official warned on Friday that the United States could be forced to expand its nuclear arsenal if China and Russia’s nuclear strategies “don’t change,” following decades of rollbacks under now-largely abandoned arms control agreements.

The comments on Friday by National Security Council senior director Pranay Vardi were the clearest public warning yet that the United States is ready to move beyond simple modernization and expand its arms arsenal. They also warned President Vladimir V. Putin of how the United States might respond if the last major nuclear arms control agreement, New START, expires in February 2026 without a replacement.

Vardy, speaking at the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association, a group that advocates limiting nuclear weapons, confirmed what officials have said for more than a year in private conversations and closed-door congressional hearings about the inevitable outcome of China’s rapid nuclear expansion and Russia’s repeated threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

But it would be an epochal shift, fraught with dangers that many Americans thought they had escaped after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Fifteen years ago, President Barack Obama laid out his vision of a world without nuclear weapons and took steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy and defense. Even as the country’s nuclear facilities have been improved and made safer, and older weapons have been replaced with more reliable or newer versions, the U.S. insists it is only “modernizing” its arsenal, not expanding it.

As Vice President in the Obama Administration, President Biden became Spokesperson for this strategy.

At the time, China was still maintaining its policy of “minimum deterrence” that dates back to its first nuclear test in 1964, and Putin seemed uninterested in a fiscally ruinous arms race. That has changed now.

China is on the road By 2035, the number of deployed nuclear weapons will be equal to that of the United States and RussiaRussia’s nuclear warhead stockpile could reach 1,000, according to public Pentagon estimates. Putin has focused on developing some unusual weapons, including an undersea nuclear torpedo that could be launched across the Pacific to destroy the West Coast of the United States. The United States has warned in recent months that Russia is pursuing a program to put a nuclear bomb into orbit.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has not discussed with Russia negotiations to replace the New START treaty, which limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons that can be launched from one continent to another.

China has been reluctant to engage in deep nuclear negotiations with the United States, making it clear that it is not interested in arms control unless its nuclear arsenal rivals that of the two nuclear powers. (Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all have their own nuclear arsenals, but they are much smaller.)

While the Biden administration has not abandoned its rhetorical support for a world without nuclear weapons, officials acknowledge that the prospects for a new arms control deal are now so slim that they are having to consider new strategies.

Mr. Vardy said the development of the B61-13 gravity bomb, a nuclear weapon designed to strike large, hardened military targets, was an example of the type of program the United States would undertake.

Currently, the United States is improving its nuclear arsenal rather than expanding it. But Mr. Vardy made clear that this could change.

“If the trajectory of adversary arsenals does not change, we may reach a point in the next few years where we will need to increase the number we currently have deployed, and we need to be fully prepared if the president makes that decision,” he said.

Vardy said the United States remains prepared to seek arms control deals that would reduce nuclear threats by “constraining and shaping” adversaries’ nuclear forces. He also cited the history of separate diplomatic tracks for such agreements and said Russia’s war in Ukraine would not be an obstacle to discussions.

But he said Russia’s refusal to negotiate a successor agreement to the New START treaty “cast a shadow” on diplomacy.

“The prospects for strategic arms control are bleak, at least in the short term,” he said.

A year earlier, at the same conference, Jack Sullivan The national security adviser pledged to renew efforts to engage China in arms control talks. Since that speech, the United States has tried to engage with China on nuclear security and recently held its first talks in Geneva to discuss the possibility of an agreement that artificial intelligence should never control nuclear weapons, among other restrictions.

That meeting was only a preliminary one, and it is unclear whether there will be a follow-up meeting. Although China has urged the United States to adopt a so-called “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons, it has not yet made a substantive response to the US proposal.

One of the complicating factors in the current nuclear environment, administration officials say, is the possibility that Russia and China will coordinate their nuclear policies as part of the “unrestricted partnership” announced by Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2022.

Vardy said the failure of Russia and China to engage in meaningful negotiations “forces the United States and our close allies and partners to prepare for a world of unquantified nuclear competition.”

He believes that the modernization of the US nuclear arsenal will motivate Russia and China to return to the negotiating table and put Washington in a stronger position in the negotiations.

“We need to convince our adversaries that managed competition through arms control is preferable to unrestrained competition,” he said.

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