Nuclear weapons: what's in store for Joe Biden and what can be expected of him

Barely inducted, on January 20, 2021, President Biden will be faced with many priorities (health and economic crisis, reunification of American society, climate crisis, etc.). As usual, during the electoral campaign, the role of foreign and defense policy was reduced to the bare minimum. However, some decisions will soon be binding on the White House with regard to arms control and nuclear weapons in general.

1 / The extension of the New START Treaty with Russia

This Treaty expires in February 2021. In an eleventh-hour attempt, the Trump administration had hoped to trade an agreement with Moscow on its one-year extension for an expansion of talks to China, the inclusion of "new Russian weapons." , and the verifiable freeze in the number of nuclear warheads pending a new treaty. Russia had rejected these conditions. Biden has always been clear on this matter: he is prepared to extend New START for five years without preconditions and begin negotiating a new offensive weapons reduction agreement. It is unlikely, however, that he will accept Russia's demand to bring to the table the defensive systems that it has reaffirmed the need in accordance with a position common to Democrats and Republicans.

2 / The Iranian nuclear agreement

Biden criticized the withdrawal, decided by Trump, of the United States of the 2015 agreement reached by Obama in the P5 + 1 framework. He pledged to join it again "if Iran returns to full respect for the deal." However, the main consequence of the American withdrawal has been the reimposition of "maximum" sanctions against Iran. Biden is ready to immediately cancel those that prevent Tehran from effectively combating the COVID-19 pandemic and the denial of visas to nationals of Muslim countries. However, he wants to renegotiate the agreement to include the Iranian missile program and the Islamic Republic's external action. In any case, its approach has the merit of being based on dialogue and negotiation "in consultation with the European allies".

3 / The denuclearization of North Korea

Biden has made no secret of his disapproval of Trump's policy of "for the photo" summits that resulted in no progress towards nuclear disarmament in Pyongyang. It should therefore resume negotiations, either bilateral or multilateral, likely to end the state of war and the lifting of sanctions in exchange for the gradual dismantling of North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

4 / The American defense doctrine

With the time needed to put the teams in place, the new president should publish his "Nuclear Posture Review" to set himself apart from that of Trump in 2018 and return to a doctrine closer to that of Obama in 2010. In particular, Biden squeezed into the Democratic agenda the first non-employment posture that Obama had failed to get accepted by the Pentagon. Nuclear weapons should therefore no longer serve only to deter or respond to a nuclear attack, but in no case to be used for a first strike.

Such a move, if it is successful and if Biden is able to convince the other nuclear powers to join it, would help to reduce nuclear risk considerably. Democratic parliamentarians are also calling for the president's power to unleash a nuclear attack no longer to be lonely but shared with Congress. Such legislation could be passed by the House of Representatives, but would have to be rejected by the Senate.

5 / The modernization of the American nuclear arsenal

Biden will have to decide, for the budget he will present in March 2021, in favor or not of the implementation of the projects launched by Trump as part of the program to modernize US nuclear weapons of $ 1.2 trillion over 30 years already. validated by Obama. Biden has already expressed his opposition to the introduction of the so-called "low power" nuclear warhead to equip cruise missiles launched from submarines because it constitutes an incitement to nuclear battle.

He is not sure, however, that he will end the intercontinental land missile replacement program estimated at $ 264 billion as requested by several organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Likewise, it will remain sensitive to the influence of the military-industrial lobby, part of which has financed its campaign, and will continue to support the testing of a missile defense system which scientists consider ineffective and unnecessary.

6 / The ban on nuclear tests

Again, Biden blasted Trump, who had considered ending the moratorium on explosive nuclear tests, risking setting a bad example for other non-parties (China, India, Pakistan, North Korea). Like his Democratic predecessors, he defends the ratification by the United States of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed in 1996. However, he remains dependent on the Senate, which should continue to oppose it.

7 / Tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe

Biden has not commented on this subject, but we can expect that he will be more respectful to NATO allies without giving up on demanding increased military spending from the United States. allies towards the target of 2% of GNP. He knows that, within NATO, the countries which are most afraid of Russia (Poland, the Baltic States) insist on maintaining and modernizing the 150 to 250 American gravity bombs distributed between Germany, Belgium, 'Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. On the other hand, the debate on their reduction or their withdrawal has started in several of these countries in Europe. Perhaps Biden will advocate including them in a new negotiation with Russia to get its more tactical weapons dismantled.

8 / The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TIAN)

In this regard, no surprise: Biden remains committed to nuclear deterrence, albeit within the tighter limits defined above. He will therefore continue the bipartisan policy of rejecting the Ban Treaty, perhaps in a less aggressive manner, by renouncing pressures exerted by Trump to block its entry into force, and ignored by states that have suffered these threats.

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