Biden Security Strategy Would Cut Role Of Nukes, Boost Industrial Base

White House

Credit: U.S. government

The U.S. must effectively compete with China through military modernization, including strengthening the defense industrial base, broad military modernization and new technologies in space, the Biden administration outlines in a long-awaited National Security Strategy (NSS). 

The new strategy boasts that the administration will flex its military muscle through “integrated deterrence” along with allies, though it lays out seemingly contradictory plans for its nuclear deterrence. 

“To ensure our nuclear deterrent remains responsive to the threats we face, we are modernizing the nuclear triad, nuclear command, control and communications, and our nuclear weapons infrastructure as well as strengthening our extended deterrence commitments to our allies,” the strategy says.

But this modernization comes as the Biden administration broadly wants to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons themselves. The administration plans to take “further steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy, and pursuing realistic goals for mutual, verifiable arms control, which contribute to our deterrence strategy and strengthen the global nonproliferation regime,” the strategy says. 

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that the NSS is the foundation for the upcoming public release of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy (NDS) and Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The administration has outlined goals to reverse the Trump administration’s NPR plans to develop a low-yield, submarine-launched nuclear missile while continuing nuclear modernization plans such as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missile. 

“You’ll see, with respect to the Nuclear Posture Review that, in fact, it does depart from some of the Trump-era formulas, and in doing so, we believe displays a step forward toward the reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in American strategy,” Sullivan says. 

Broadly, the new strategy continues the existing plans for military modernization to compete with China, the U.S.’s pacing challenge, while also deterring Russia. The U.S. is in a “decisive decade” dealing with these two powers, along with transnational challenges from climate change, inflation and the pandemic, Sullivan says.

“We will modernize the joint force to be lethal, resilient, sustainable, survivable, agile, and responsive, prioritizing operational concepts and updated warfighting capabilities,” the strategy says. 

It highlights Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent deliveries of billions worth of military equipment from the U.S. and across the West. This quick response shows the need for a healthy industrial base that can surge when needed, it says. 

“The war in Ukraine highlights the criticality of a vibrant Defense Industrial Base for the United States and its allies and partners,” it says. “It must not only be capable of rapidly manufacturing proven capabilities needed to defend against adversary aggression, but also empowered to innovate and creatively design solutions as battlefield conditions evolve.”

This industrial base needs governmental support to counter emerging technologies that will pose new threats to the U.S. and allies. To that end, the strategy says the administration is investing in advanced technologies such as missile defeat capabilities, trusted artificial intelligence and quantum systems, including in space and cyber domains. As the U.S. makes these investments, international partners need to as well, the strategy argues. 

“As we modernize our military and work to strengthen our democracy at home, we will call on our allies to do the same, including by investing in the type of capabilities and undertaking the planning necessary to bolster deterrence in an increasing confrontational world,” it says.

The NSS, which was released almost 19 months into the Biden administration, is the basis for the upcoming NDS. A classified version of the defense strategy was provided to Capitol Hill earlier this year. Sullivan did not say when a public version would be provided. 

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.