Comment: Biden has chance to deescalate threat of nuclear war

The president should work to de-emphasize nuclear weapons as part of defense and diplomatic policy.

By David C. Hall / For The Herald

President Biden’s administration is developing the next Nuclear Posture Review that will set U.S. nuclear weapons policy for the foreseeable future. Given the Pentagon’s recent elimination of Leonor Tomero’s position leading that review for the Pentagon, it will require of the president enormous foresight and courage to reassert his earlier determination to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy.

Under President Obama as his vice president, Joe Biden led the administration’s campaign to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and get the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified. Sadly, even under those promising circumstances, support for the NPT was undermined by a political deal with senators required for support of NewSTART nuclear weapon limitations with Russia. Again the CTBT did not win Senate approval. By forced agreement with the Senate the Obama posture review called for modernizing the entire nuclear arsenal and reinforced the belief that a large and technically sophisticated nuclear arsenal was essential for U.S. security. The underside of this decision was to elevate nuclear weapons in the U.S. defense strategy and further enshrine the notion of deterrence as a valid and rational justification for these weapons of terror.

In January of this year, President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed the principle that a nuclear war could not be won and must never be fought.

Now in a highly contentious time Biden leads a new Nuclear Posture Review that seems likely to be more of the same. The posture reviews throughout their history since 1993 have all enshrined nuclear weapons as necessary evils in the service of deterrence.

President Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review could set a new standard by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in a manner that reassures Russia and China and calls forth serious deep and ongoing conversations with them, our allies and other adversaries designed to put these blighted arsenals into safeguard regimens until they can be destroyed while humane international negotiations work out our very real power differences, cultural misunderstandings, and common safety.

Nuclear weapons, born of fear of totalitarianism, are inherently totalitarian weapons. They were developed in response to fears that Nazi Germany would win World War II if they had nuclear weapons and the U.S. did not. So we adopted a totalitarian regime to build and deploy these weapons of mass destruction. This regime commands the decisions about these weapons, and resists any effort to curtail their place in our defense. Since the U.S. is the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in war, other countries fear we will use them again.

When the the United States modernizes its nuclear arsenal, other countries do the same. China’s latest plans to build up their arsenal numbers is the current case in point.

The Biden Nuclear Posture Review faces the likelihood, absent a strong presidential counter measure, that this review will continue to make nuclear weapons central to U.S. military and diplomatic force projection.

This is Biden’s opportunity to make history and to advance the true security of all of us by directing his Nuclear Posture Review toward real reductions in the role of these weapons of mass murder in U.S. foreign policy.

Nuclear weapons are antithetical to our democratic values and pose indiscriminate threats to law and life. Mr. President, we implore you to help make them go away.

David C. Hall, a resident of Lopez Island, is past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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