US Allies Reportedly Urge Biden Not to Drop Possibility of Preemptive Nuke Strike on Russia, China

“Adopting a ‘sole purpose’ nuclear declaratory policy would be soul crushing to US allies and partners. It would gut our credibility,” the source complained.

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China and India are currently the only nuclear weapons states with a definite ‘no first use’ policy – which commits them not to use their nukes unless such arms are first used against them. Russia’s military doctrine allows for nuclear weapons to be used in response to a conventional attack if it threatens the very existence of the state.

Major US allies in Europe and Asia are reportedly lobbying the Biden administration not to change America’s policy on the use of nuclear weapons amid concerns that the White House is considering adding a nuclear “no first use” declaration in an ongoing nuclear posture review assessment.

Unnamed officials speaking to Financial Times indicated that the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Australia are among the countries concerned over the proposed change in US policy.

One unnamed official told the newspaper that the administration’s reported mulling of a shift to a ‘sole purpose’ policy – which would limit the use of nukes to deterring a direct attack on the homeland, as a threat to allies. “This would be a huge gift to China and Russia”, the official said.

Biden ran in support of a ‘sole purpose’ nuclear stance in 2020, and reportedly supported the position during his tenure as Barack Obama’s vice president between 2009 and 2017.

Washington reportedly sent out a questionnaire to US allies on possible changes to America’s nuclear policy earlier this year, with allies said to have provided an ‘overwhelmingly negative’ response. Fears have supposedly been exacerbated by the Biden administration’s recent unilateral decision-making in areas including the Afghan pullout, as well as the AUKUS security pact with the UK and Australia, which other allies were kept in the dark on and which cost France a $65 billion submarine contract with Canberra.

“Allies are essentially, in unison, collectively panicking,” a senior congressional source told the newspaper. “They don’t believe their numerous and repeated overtures are being reported up to Biden administration principals, and to the president himself.”

“Adopting a ‘sole purpose’ nuclear declaratory policy would be soul crushing to US allies and partners. It would gut our credibility,” the source complained.

A NATO diplomat said that allies’ concerns were expressed “in no uncertain terms” to US Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin during his visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels on 22 October.

The administration is expected to conclude its nuclear posture review by the end of the year.

US Nuclear Policy

The United States “reserves the right to use” nuclear weapons on a preemptive basis, even against non-nuclear adversaries, in the event of conflict, and is the only country to have ever deployed the weapons against another nation (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945). In addition to a commitment to deter attack against the US itself, America’s nuclear doctrine allows for its so-called “nuclear umbrella” to be extended to allies and partners – meaning the US reserves itself the right to respond to aggression against allies in Europe or Asia with nukes.

In 2016, President Obama considered adopting a nuclear no first use policy, but backed down after being advised against it by his aides. In 2018, the Trump administration completed a Nuclear Posture Review update to US nuclear policy, ramping up the nuclear arms race and requesting funding for a new class of small-yield nuclear weapons, a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile, and a new silo-based intercontinental ballistic missile intended to replace the Minuteman III.

The United States is in the middle of a 30-year, $1.7 trillion programme to upgrade its nuclear arsenal – equivalent to over 53 times the $28 billion Russia is estimated to have spent on its nuclear modernisation in recent years.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows for the use of its nuclear weapons in the event of an enemy nuclear attack, or against conventional aggression so severe that it threatens the existence of the state. Moscow dropped its nuclear no-first use pledge in 1993, after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact alliance.

Russia’s nuclear policy is informed by US military planners’ work on the concept of a ‘Prompt Global Strike’ – which envisions a massed precision-guided conventional strike against a strategic enemy aimed at decapitating its leadership and defences, and disabling its nuclear response capability. This project, combined with the US decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, prompted Russia to begin work on its hypersonic missile capabilities.

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