US Nuclear Posture Review 2022

US declares using its nuclear forces first in “extreme circumstances” without exactly defining when, where, and how

Dr Zafar Khan November 09, 2022
The writer is an Executive Director of BTTN, at BUITEMS

The 2022 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) of the US primarily focuses on keeping “a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent” while practising “strong and credible extended deterrence to its allies and partners” both in Europe in the form of NATO by constraining Russia and in Asia as part of the US perceived Offshore Balancing strategy by out-competing and containing China. The NPR is becoming the linchpin of the broader US National Defense Strategy, which has surprisingly embedded the NPR within it this time around.

The central gravity and perhaps a dichotomy of the NPR is that on the one hand, the US proclaims to “pursue a comprehensive and balanced approach” for reducing the dangers of the use of nuclear weapons through “arms control, non-proliferation and risk reduction” by “reducing the salience of nuclear weapons globally”; but, on the other hand, the US would like to adopt an “integrated deterrence” with “tailored options” to not only retain the first use nuclear option for protecting its allies and partners, but also keep on modernising its deterrent forces.

The US declares using its nuclear forces first in “extreme circumstances” without exactly defining when, where, and how nuclear weapons could be used. When it comes to the perceived credibility of its nuclear forces, the US would “hold at risk what adversary leadership values most”. The NPR 2022 appears to support the imperatives for arms control and non-proliferation, but the US has yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). It does not share the underlying assumption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It does not talk about the existing fissile materials, though it claims to follow a unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile materials when it comes to the proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) while inviting China to follow the same. It does not talk about how and why the US has parted away with the so-called Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2022 and more recently has withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019.

Although both the US and Russia have successfully extended the New-Start Treaty which may help reduce their nuclear forces to 1550, but does not include many critical deterrent forces such as the emerging technologies, hypersonic missile capability, sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems, tactical nuclear forces, deterrent force modernisation, etc. This undermine the future of the New Start between the two nuclear rivals on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition, the NPR does not primarily focus on nuclear disarmament which the US along with the P-5 pledged as part of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. Despite the life extension of the NPT since 1995 with a membership of 190 countries, there is no evidence if nuclear disarmament is occurring. The NPR is rather critical on nuclear disarmament which may not be achieved anytime soon. It broadly criticises Russia and China for advancing their nuclear capabilities alongside pointing North Korea and Iran as security threats to its allies and partners. However, the NPR fails to elaborate why Russia and China policy documents perceive security threats from the US, producing effective countermeasures thereby potentially accelerating the arms race; undermining non-proliferation; shunning away prospects for global nuclear disarmament; and increasing risk of accidental and inadvertent military crisis leading to nuclear level between these potential adversaries.

In sum, the US would continue to retain a variety of deterrent forces bolstered with sophisticated delivery systems. It desires to have technological dominance in all forms of force-domains. With a nuclear umbrella, it continues to support its allies as a broader part of its grand strategy. At the same time, it does not allow any of its allies and partners to acquire nuclear weapons. It desires to have de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. It does not want Iran to cross the threshold for acquiring nuclear weapons. Surely, with that being noted, the NPR 2022 will have implications on the nuclear policies of other nuclear weapon states confronting acute security threat.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2022.

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