Biden’s nuclear weapons policy unlikely to differ much from Trump’s, according to expert

A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is launched off the California coast

Phoenix Media Co-op asked nuclear policy specialist Joe Cirincione about his recent article on the changes the current US government should make to help create a safer world. And he spoke about how there currently seems to be little interest in policy reform regarding nuclear weapons.

Significant change unlikely under Biden

Cirincione said:

We’ve seen very little from the Biden White House right now on nuclear policy. The one thing they did and they did it very quickly was come back to extend the New START Treaty with Russia, which was an easy thing to do – something that Donald Trump could have done at any moment but didn’t. And so we once again are continuing at least the skeleton of the arms control process.

He added:

I think he’s going to keep most of the weapons going. I haven’t seen any indication that President Biden is going to cancel any of the weapons that Donald Trump started: a new sea-launched cruise missile, a new air-launched cruise missile, the new low-yield warhead for the submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

And Biden’s recent ‘defence’ budget request didn’t change Cirincione’s assessment. As he later told Phoenix Media Co-op:

Biden may trim the programs, delay them a bit, and cancel one or two of the smaller items, like the low-yield warhead or the slcm [submarine-launched cruise missile], but nothing more than that.

The power of lobbying

Cirincione continued by speaking about the role the arms trade lobby is likely to play in ensuring Biden doesn’t make any significant policy changes: 

And most importantly, it looks like he’s going to continue the programme for the intercontinental ballistic missile. This is a very big … and destabilising programme that’s going to cost about $264bn over the life of the programme. It’s worth about $100bn to Northrop Grumman, who has a sole source contract on this.

So you’re going to see a lot of intense defence contractor lobbying to keep these weapons in the budget. And I think you’ve got a staff at the Defense Department that are inclined to go along with the contractors’ roadmap, to continue building the weapons. And you have a Republican Party who’s making this a big issue. So if Biden were to do anything at all, make the slightest possible cut to nuclear weapons, it would scream that he was weakening America, that he was leaving America defenceless.

More about the interviewee

Cirincione is a ‘distinguished non-resident fellow’ at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He previously worked as non-proliferation director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is also the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World before It Is Too Late; and of Bomb Scare:  The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.

Main article image via The U.S. National Archives

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