In late October, the Biden Administration released four strategy documents outlining how it intends to “advance America’s vital interests, position the United States to outmaneuver our geopolitical competitors, [and] tackle shared challenges” — the National Security Strategy (the government-wide guidance prepared by the White House) and the inter-related National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Defense Review (prepared by the Defense Department.)
Since 1994, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) has served to describe to Congress, the American public, and international audiences how the current administration is addressing key nuclear weapons-related issues, including: how nuclear weapons and policy guidance (for example, the circumstances which could lead to their use) fit into the administration’s overall national security strategy; significant developments regarding the numbers and types of nuclear weapons, infrastructure, and command-and-control necessary to maintain the safety, credibility, reliability, and effectiveness of the US deterrent; and the administration’s approach to nuclear arms control and non-proliferation.
In fact, the security environment facing US nuclear strategists has grown more complex and potentially dangerous. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the NPR points out, has taken place “under a nuclear shadow characterized by irresponsible saber-rattling.” China — the other US “strategic competitor and potential adversary” — continues to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities, while North Korea’s nuclear weapons and certain Iranian nuclear activities pose serious regional concerns. Meanwhile, prospects for resurrecting risk-reduction talks and arms control negotiations among the major powers, already set back by the war in Ukraine, might be further clouded by new disruptive technologies, a rapidly changing information ecosystem, and emerging concepts of escalation and strategic stability.