Nuclear arms race, nuclear sanctions and nuclear proliferation
One of the former Putin and Gazprom advisers, Dr. Alexander Rahr recently outlined the possibility of Russian sanctions against the US and European nuclear industry, also pointing out that Russia controls about 50% of the global uranium trade and the French had difficulties with their African suppliers such as Mali, where Wagner is expanding. The Moscow Times is now turning the tables and calling for sanctions against the Russian nuclear industry:
„Europe Should Sanction Russia’s Nuclear Industry – Now
Oct. 22, 2022
The Russian nuclear industry has once again managed to avoid inclusion in the latest round of EU sanctions – the eighth in a row to skirt this vital issue in an apparent acknowledgment that Europe’s dependence on Russian nuclear fuel cannot easily be reversed.
Since the start of the war in February, the media has been so focused on Russian fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, that it has avoided any discussion of Europe’s nuclear dependence on Russia completely. However, the topic can no longer be safely ignored.
The Kremlin has already earned several hundred billion dollars so far this year by selling fossil fuels to Europe, a financial cushion that has allowed Moscow to fund its horrific war in Ukraine. While Europe is less reliant on Russia supplying its atomic energy sector than it is its fossil fuel sector, the depedence of the European atomic energy industry on Russian nuclear fuel is as surprising as it is alarming.
Much work has gone into weaning Europe off Russian fossil fuels, with time being of the essence as Brussels seeks to curtail Moscow’s lucrative revenue streams as quickly and as comprehensively as possible. However, its nuclear industry has not yet been the focus of any such efforts.
Russian sales of nuclear fuel to the EU earn the Kremlin far less than its fossil fuel exports do, and some Western politicians have used that to justify a lack of resolve in the EU to sanction Moscow’s nuclear industry. But the amount the industry makes for ther Kremlin coffers is beside the point now, as Europe’s dependence on the Russian nuclear industry has become more of a security concern than a financial one.
There are 18 Russian nuclear reactors in operation in the EU: in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland. Russia supplies the nuclear fuel they require and there is no alternative supplier. In addition to that, Russia’s atomic energy agency Rosatom supplies uranium to French company Framatome, which operates a nuclear fuel facility in the German town of Lingen. Despite protests against the continued delivery of Russian uranium last month, the facility’s owner said it would continue to work with Russia – and the German government admitted it was powerless to prevent it from doing so.
Framatome provides nuclear fuel to nearly all Western European countries with a nuclear power sector. In total, Russia supplies 20% of the uranium consumed in Europe. Almost the same amount comes from Kazakhstan, where uranium production remains effectively under Moscow’s control.
France has not made a single move to limit its cooperation with Rosatom, which goes far deeper than just fuel production. The French-made Arabelle turbines, as well as instrumentation and control systems produced jointly by Siemens and Framatome that are essential for new nuclear reactors, are still available to Russian customers. Hungary plans to build two new Russian nuclear reactors, and will use these components if its plans go ahead. In this case, it is Russia who is dependent on Europe, not vice versa – but still no sanctions apply.
Russia’s attitude towards nuclear power has been clearly demonstrated by the occupation of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant where Russian forces have taken local staff hostage. The plant itself has become an instrument of war, putting Europe on the brink of a new nuclear disaster potentially more dangerous than Chernobyl.
If the bloody and barbaric Russian war in Ukraine teaches us anything, it is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is out of control and negotiating with him is inherently futile. Anyone in any way dependent on Russia can be sure that Putin will find a way to use that dependence to his advantage.
By maintaining their nuclear dependence on Russia, European countries are making a very big mistake. They seem to believe they can find a way to deal with Putin to secure further nuclear supplies.
But Putin is not Santa Claus and Rosatom was not created to serve Europe. It is the geopolitical arm of the Kremlin – that’s why all its foreign contracts for new reactors, including the deal in Hungary, are paid for from the coffers of the Russian state. Europe’s dependence on the Russian nuclear industry was actually engineered to weaken Europe and bring it under Russian influence.
Weaning Europe off its dependence on Russia’s nuclear industry will be a struggle and won’t happen on its own. But choosing to ignore an obvious security threat in a sector as sensitive as nuclear power would be foolhardy in the extreme. European governments must take action.
Dr Rahr commented on this as follows:
“Germany is left out when it comes to sanctions against Rosatom; it no longer has any nuclear power plants. France is the main buyer of Russian uranium. But in the US, relations with Rosatom are much stronger, I haven’t heard anything about sanctions there. Incidentally, the x sanctions show their limits. In Asia people buy diligently from Russia. Turkey will get Russian nuclear power plants, India too.”
Important to know, especially since the author in the Moscow Times omits these important and differentiated facts. In addition, as Rahr correctly state, this question is not discussed in detail in the USA, even during election campaigns. Although Saudi Arabia and Poland now want to build US nuclear power plants with Westinghouse and other US companies. The question of nuclear proliferation is also interesting in this context, since Erdogan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as emerging nuclear powers, are supposed to position themselves on hold with one or the other help. Even under the Trump government there were nuclear upgrades for Saudi Arabia. Based on the reports of a whistleblower, an investigative committee of the US House of Representatives presented a report in 2019 after leading circles in the Trump administration, to which his son-in-law Jareed Kushner belongs, are said to have launched the so-called IP3/Ironbridge program, a kind of Marshall plan for Saudi Arabia. but which is only supposed to be a camouflage cloak for supplying Saudi Arabia with nuclear power plants and ultimately nuclear weapons. The front company includes a consortium of General Electric, Siemens, Toshiba and other companies, ex-generals and Trump’s former national security advisor Flynn, but above all his son-in-law Jareed Kushner. The original report of the House of Representatives can be read at:
Juan Cole also wrote an Informed Comment article summarizing the report’s findings:
How Kushner and other Key Trump Officials Plotted to Give Saudis the Atom Bomb in Return for Billions
Juan Cole 02/21/2019
Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform has issued a Report on a plot to make billions of dollars by selling Saudi Arabia sensitive American nuclear technology that could allow the Kingdom to develop nuclear weapons. The scheme required breaking US law, which forbids technology transfers that might allow nuclear proliferation.
The plot was pushed by a “company” formed for this express purpose called IP3 International, which doesn’t seem to have actually existed except as a sort of shell for lobbying the Trump administration. IP3 was, according to the committee, helmed by “General Keith Alexander, General Jack Keane, Mr. Bud McFarlane, and Rear Admiral Michael Hewitt, as well as the chief executives of six companies— Exelon Corporation, Toshiba America Energy Systems, Bechtel Corporation, Centrus Energy Corporation, GE Energy Infra structure, and Siemens USA—“ All “signed a letter to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The letter presented ‘the Iron Bridge Program as a 21st Century Marshall Plan for the Middle East.’”
Bud McFarlane? That is Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor who was up to his elbows selling arms to Khomeini in the Iran-Contra scandal, and thought up the idea of sending Ayatollah Khomeini a cake shaped like a key and a Bible (along with a few T.O.W. anti-tank emplacements)! Like Elliot Abrams, he was pardoned by George H. W. Bush, who seems to have created a factory for 21st century further scandals.
The point man for the plot was General Mike Flynn, who called for Hillary Clinton to be locked up at the Republican National Conference in late summer of 2016 and glommed on to Trump, becoming his first National Security Adviser. Flynn had visited Saudi Arabia in connection with the IP3 plot to transfer nuclear technology to that country that could help Riyadh make a bomb if the royal family felt they needed to do so to remain safe (e.g. if Iran went in that direction or if relations with nuclear-armed Israel tanked). The cover story was that the US corporate front would just make 6 nuclear reactors for electricity generation.
Derek Harvey, the Senior Director for Middle East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council in the first half of 2017, is alleged to have adopted the IP3 plot as US policy, dubbing it the “Middle Eastern Marshall Plan.” Mr. Harvey seems confused. The Marshall Plan was an aid program where the US gave out hundreds of millions of dollars to poor societies after WW II to promote prosperity and fight Communism. It wasn’t a money-making scheme whereby we would sell nuclear weapons technology to an absolute monarchy that uses bone saws on journalists in return for vastly enriching private individuals and a handful of corporations.
Remember, all these retired generals and CEOs and Republican bigwigs were calling for Iran to be bombed back to the stone age on the pretext that it had a civilian nuclear enrichment program that was potentially dual use and could maybe someday perhaps lead to an Iranian Bomb (the Iranians never decided to go in that direction and in 2015 mothballed 80% of their program). Apparently what the US economic elite really minded was not so much possible Iranian proliferation but that they would not get a few billion dollars as a payday for being the ones to supply the technology.
IP3 was not in a position to do an end run around the Atomic Energy Act, the law preventing an administration from handing over top nuclear secrets to another country without congressional approval. But the National Security Council could be a vehicle for secretly making such a deal.
The Congressional report says that the IP3 plot was closed down at one point but that NSC whistleblowers are afraid that some Trump administration personnel in the NSC and elsewhere may still be working on the illegal technology transfer.
Note that it might actually have been possible for Trump to get the scheme through the Republican House and Senate before last November but that the current legislators are unlikely to want to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear-bomb-making technology.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, appears to have picked up the scheme once Flynn was fired for having lied to the FBI over his contacts late in 2016 with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The committee report says that whistleblowers allege that in March, 2017, a meeting was held…
“Also present was a career NSC staffer who later informed colleagues that Mr. Harvey was again trying to promote the IP 3 plan “so that Jared Kushner can present it to the President for approval.”
For all we know, the plan to give the Saudis a nuke is still in play, with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake. This scheme is the ultimate in criminality, where US government resources (remember the Manhattan project?) are given away to another government by the white collar criminals now running the US government so that they can scoop up private massive fortunes rivaling those of the richest persons in the world such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.
One thing you may be assured of is that Iran is going through this Congressional report with a fine-tooth comb. If there is one thing that really could crash the 2015 Iranian non-proliferation nuclear deal, it is the prospect of a Saudi Bomb. That people would try to destroy that deal on the one hand and slip Riyadh world-destroying secrets for personal enrichment boggles the mind.
In this context, the new US Nuclear Posture Review is also interesting, especially in Asia, claiming that China wants to bring its number of ICBMs to US and Russian par of 1000 by 2030 at the latest. The US has now proposed nuclear arms control negotiations to China again and now the US representative invokes the danger of a new Cuban Missile Crisis in the event of failure, which can also be read as a threat. So far, China has refused negotiations, as the Taipei Times reports:
„Thu, Nov 03, 2022 page1
China resisting nuclear talks after Xi vow, US says
Despite the lesson of the Cuban missile crisis 60 years ago, China has shown no interest in discussing steps to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons, senior US officials said on Tuesday, after Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) last month signaled that Beijing would strengthen its strategic deterrent.
The Pentagon has said China is undergoing a major expansion of its nuclear forces and is moving toward having 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030.
However, Beijing has long resisted arms control talks with Washington, arguing that the US already has a much larger arsenal.
Alexandra Bell, deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, told an Atlantic Council forum that despite US efforts, Washington and Beijing still had not begun engagement on the issue.
“As a first step, we’d really like to have a conversation with them about each other’s doctrines, about crisis communication, crisis management,” Bell said, adding that Washington has had such talks with Russia for decades.
“We’re not in that space with Beijing yet. So, there’s work to be done to begin the conversation, we think bilaterally,” Bell said.
“We’re now at the 60th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. We don’t need to repeat that to know that we need to be at the table having conversations with each other,” Bell said, referring to events in 1962 when the US and the Soviet Union came close to nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last year after a call between Xi and President Joe Biden that the two had agreed to “look to begin to carry-forward discussion on strategic stability.”
However, Xi signaled during the Chinese Communist Party National Congress last month that China would strengthen its strategic deterrent, a term often used to describe nuclear weapons.
However, some US strategists and military see the Ukraine war only as a warm-up and test run for further and larger wars, especially now that China is said to want to increase its ICBM numbers by 2030.
“Ukraine war a ‚warmup,‘ the ‚big one is coming‘ and US behind in nuclear, admiral warns
The US Stratcom head warned that China and Russia are outcompeting America in the nuclear arena, losing deterrence.
Published: NOVEMBER 6, 2022 10:24
Updated: NOVEMBER 6, 2022 11:05
The war in Ukraine is a prelude to greater military challenges to the US in the near future, and America is losing its competitive edge in nuclear weapons capabilities, US Strategic Command head Admiral Charles Richard warned in a speech at the Naval Submarine League’s 2022 Annual Symposium & Industry Update on Wednesday, the US Defense Department reported.
„This Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warmup,“ said Richard. „The big one is coming. And it isn’t going to be very long before we’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested in a long time.“
„As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking.“
US Strategic Command head Admiral Charles Richard
Nuclear competition with Russia and China
Richard warned that the US was losing its nuclear deterrence against competitors like China and Russia.
„As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking,“ he said. „It is sinking slowly, but it is sinking, as fundamentally they are putting capability in the field faster than we are.“
In its October 27 National Defense Strategy paper, the Pentagon also presented a dire situation in the nuclear balance between the US and Russia and China.
„Our principal competitors continue to expand and diversify their nuclear capabilities, to include novel and destabilizing systems, as well as non-nuclear capabilities that could be used to conduct strategic attacks,“ said the nuclear posture review. „They have demonstrated little interest in reducing their reliance on nuclear weapons. By contrast, the United States is focused on the timely replacement of legacy fielded systems that are rapidly approaching their end of service life.“
China seeks to possess at least 1,000 deliverable warheads by the end of 2030, and Russia intends to deploy 1,550 START treaty-limited warheads on delivery vehicles.
„The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the overall pacing challenge for US defense planning and a growing factor in evaluating our nuclear deterrent. The PRC has embarked on an ambitious expansion, modernization, and diversification of its nuclear forces and established a nascent nuclear triad.“ said the nuclear posture review. „Russia continues to emphasize nuclear weapons in its strategy, modernize and expand its nuclear forces, and brandish its nuclear weapons in support of its revisionist security policy.“
Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, expressed more confidence regarding the competition China presented in a press briefing on Friday.
„I think we feel very confident in our capabilities when it comes to China, or just generally in the Indo-Pacific,“ she said. „The secretary [Richard] laid out in his National Defense Strategy that China remains our pacing challenge. We know that in order to compete with China, we are doing more when it comes to our own readiness and our own exercises. But I think we definitely are monitoring things that are happening in the Indo-Pacific and remain ready to act, if needed.“
„This Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warmup…The big one is coming.“
US Strategic Command head Admiral Charles Richard
US needs to pick up the pace
Richard said that the one field that the US still dominated was undersea capabilities.
„Undersea capabilities is still the one … maybe the only true asymmetric advantage we still have against our opponents,“ Richard said according to US Defense Department news. „But unless we pick up the pace, in terms of getting our maintenance problems fixed, getting new construction going … if we can’t figure that out … we are not going to put ourselves in a good position to maintain strategic deterrence and national defense.“
The Stratcom commander called on the US military to look for inspiration in how it operated in the 1950s to restore its competitive advantage.
„We have to do some rapid, fundamental change in the way we approach the defense of this nation,“ said Richard. „We used to know how to move fast, and we have lost the art of that.“
„Otherwise,“ Richard continued, „China is simply going to out-compete us, and Russia isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.“
Conversely, this means for Russia that its key competitive advantage within the Sino-Russian axis is, if not lost, at least decisivly weakened. The Russian “Asian Pivot” ideologue Karaganov saw Russia´s value and advantage for China in the triad of authoritarian ideology, resource empire and Russia’s strategic nuclear ICBMs, on which it could base a position as a great power on an equal footing. Global Review already criticized the ICBM weakness in Karaganov’s theory on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s think tank, the Russian International Affairs Council. Although the USA is startled by this, it is not really a surprise and not an unforeseeable development, especially since the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessment played through this scenario years ago in its programmatic study „Rethinking Armageddon“. However the nuclear deterrent balance could be dramatically changed by China’s strategic build-up. The CSBA study can be read here again:
North Korea now also wants to test ICBMs and maybe another nuclear bomb in the near future. That was the starting point of the Korean crisis under Trump, where the „little fat rocket man on a suicide mission“ was threatened with „fire and fury“. After the Trump Kim meeting, there seemed to be calm at first, with the North Koreans only sporadically sinking a conventional medium-range missile right into the sea without consequences. Now that Biden, Japan and South Korea are backing a hard line approach against North Korea and China, holding US maneuvers in South Korea again, Kim is switching back. It remains to be seen how this will effect the nuclear balance and geopolitical situation in Asia in the event of an ICBM and a nuclear weapons test.
It is also interesting what the Nuclear Posture Review means and how long it has existed and how it has developed, for which the following article in The Atlantic is recommended:
“The Nuclear Question America Never Answers
What the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review means
By Tom Nichols
What is the purpose of the American nuclear arsenal? Every American president since the end of the Cold War has tried to answer this question in a formal report called the Nuclear Posture Review. And every American president has fudged their answer—now including President Joe Biden, who released his NPR last week even as Russia wages war in Europe and the Russian president makes barely veiled nuclear threats against Ukraine, NATO, and the United States itself.
The first NPR, in 1994, was the result of an initiative by President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense Les Aspin to ask what we should do after the Cold War with a nuclear arsenal that was designed to defeat a Soviet adversary that no longer existed. The process, unfortunately, turned into a kind of bureaucratic free-for-all, in which the Pentagon—better organized, more powerful, and more committed to the status quo than other agencies—outflanked Aspin and his staff (including a talented young assistant secretary of defense named Ashton Carter, later to become secretary himself). Unsurprisingly, the document effectively said that our nuclear establishment, including the triad of bombers, land-based missiles, and submarines, was just fine. Its authors conceded that a new force could be smaller and cheaper, a kind of Mini-Me of the old one.
And that’s pretty much what subsequent NPRs have said ever since. Over the years, other administrations have differed in their emphasis but not their conclusions. The 2002 NPR, for example, reflected both the priorities of the George W. Bush administration and the trauma of 9/11. It was, apparently, a mess of a document. I say “apparently” because most of it was classified; the parts that were released—or leaked—to the public looked very much like the result of lazy outsourcing to defense contractors once everyone in the national-security establishment had stampeded over to counterterrorism and insurgency issues. It was soon buried and forgotten.
Tom Nichols: The president and the bomb
When Barack Obama released an NPR, his administration hired communications consultants to try to avoid his predecessor’s stumble, but this precaution didn’t matter. I was among many who hoped that the 2010 release would contain serious changes to U.S. nuclear doctrine, especially because a year earlier, Obama had committed the United States to a nuclear-free world. But again, interagency struggles produced a compromise document that kept previous policies and structures intact.
When Donald Trump became president, many in the national-security community held their breath to see what would come from a man so staggeringly ignorant about nuclear issues. But in the end, the 2018 review, while somewhat harder-edged in its rhetoric, didn’t make major changes to U.S. policy. One significant addition was the idea that the United States could respond to “non-nuclear strategic attacks” with nuclear weapons, but Washington has always implicitly reserved the right to such a response; the Trump administration just decided to say it a little louder.
And now here we are with the fifth NPR. Biden’s report does make some changes. Trump, for example, proposed a new sea-launched nuclear cruise missile. This was a bad idea, and as a result of deliberations over the NPR, Biden zeroed out the budget for it. Biden’s NPR also jettisons much of Trump’s language about responding to nonnuclear attacks.
But we’re keeping the same kinds of forces and the same strategies we used during our long struggle with the Soviet Union. The NPR says, yet again, that the triad is a good idea, that it should be modernized at great expense, and that nuclear deterrence is the ultimate guarantee of American national security.
And yet the big questions remain unanswered. Does the strategic arsenal exist only to deter the use of similar weapons against us? Or does it exist to fight and prevail in a nuclear war? Biden’s solution is the same compromise found in the four other posture reviews: America hopes for a world in which nuclear arms only deter nuclear arms, but that world isn’t here yet.
The Biden NPR is woven into something the administration calls “integrated deterrence,” and as a symbolic point, it was released not as a stand-alone report, but along with both the National Defense Strategy and the Missile Defense Review. “Integrated deterrence” sounds very sensible, but what is it, and what role do nuclear weapons play in it? Here’s the 2022 National Defense Strategy:
Integrated deterrence entails working seamlessly across warfighting domains, theaters, the spectrum of conflict, all instruments of U.S. national power, and our network of Alliances and partnerships. Tailored to specific circumstances, it applies a coordinated, multifaceted approach to reducing competitors’ perceptions of the net benefits of aggression relative to restraint. Integrated deterrence is enabled by combat-credible forces prepared to fight and win, as needed, and backstopped by a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.
If you found all that verbiage hard to parse, so did I. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Posture Review adds this refinement—such that it is:
A key goal of integrated deterrence is to develop tailored options that shape adversary perceptions of benefits and costs. The role of nuclear weapons is well established and embedded in strategic deterrence policy and plans. Non-nuclear capabilities may be able to complement nuclear forces in strategic deterrence plans and operations in ways that are suited to their attributes and consistent with policy on how they are to be employed.
As the writer Fred Kaplan noted, this is just “a slog of cliches.” But what it all boils down to is that we’re going to keep doing what we’ve done for some 60 years or so: The United States will deter its enemies by having very good military forces capable of fighting in various environments, with the ultimate security of America and its allies guaranteed by many hundreds of strategic nuclear warheads deliverable in hours by manned bombers—or in a matter of minutes by sea- and land-based missiles.
There is one part of the NPR that minces no words. It says:
Any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its Allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of that regime. There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive.
This is a remarkably stark warning to North Korea. Notice, however, that this passage does not guarantee nuclear retaliation, which is wise. Presidents as far back as Richard Nixon have sought nuclear options against North Korea, a difficult business that carries great risk of escalation as well as damage to other nations. Still, the clarity of this one line raises the question of what might be happening behind the scenes that Biden felt the need to say it.
The report, however, is overall a disappointment for arms-control advocates, especially because Biden, like Obama and Trump before him, remains committed to spending a huge amount of money—more than $600 billion over the next decade—on nuclear weapons. Kaplan, rightly, argued that the 2022 NPR is “a sign that another casualty of the war in Ukraine and various other messes in the world is the suspension of creative thinking about nuclear strategy.” Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda at the Federation of American Scientists said that “efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals and the role that nuclear weapons play have been subdued by renewed strategic competition abroad and opposition from defense hawks at home.” And the arms-control expert Joe Cirincione believes that the whole review process itself is so flawed that Biden’s NPR should be the last ever issued, because it removes too much power from the White House and gives the nuclear establishment too much control over its own interests.
From the September 2010 issue: Living with a nuclear Iran
How could this NPR have been different? I am a reformed nuclear hawk—early in my career, I worked in a defense firm that assisted the Strategic Defense Initiative—but since the early 1990s, I have been advocating for reducing our nuclear inventory and decreasing our reliance on nuclear threats. And so I would have liked to have seen a declaration that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of similar nuclear weapons, along with a “no first use” pledge, in which the United States vowed never to be the first to employ nuclear arms. Sole-purpose and no-first-use declarations cause anxiety among our allies, and understandably so, but it is not 1968 and we are not facing two dozen Soviet divisions along the NATO border.
The huge cost of nuclear modernization also shifts resources away from necessary conventional-force improvements, which are important to countering potential Chinese aggression at sea. Nuclear weapons are not a replacement for naval, air, and ground forces that can deter—and if need be, fight and win—a war in the first place. Look no farther than Ukraine, where Vladimir Putin is learning that painful lesson right now: The Kremlin’s mighty nuclear arsenal has not saved tens of thousands of Russian men from being killed or wounded in a losing battle against a nation one-third the size of Russia.
Realistically, the Biden NPR probably said all that could be said in the current circumstances. A drawn-out crisis with Russia is not the time to invite a debate over the role of the American nuclear deterrent; as former U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer told me earlier this week: “I had hoped for more ambition in the NPR, but given Russia’s actions and nuclear threats, the final product is no surprise.” The military and the nuclear establishment are resistant to change, but if the current NPR looks a lot like a status quo Cold War document rather than a blueprint for reform, we largely have Putin—and the Chinese, who may be ramping up their threats against Taiwan—to thank for it.”
In short, the USA wants to prevent the first use of nuclear weapons, also the Chinese side, and Putin is increasingly threatening to use nukes, and Scholz, despite all the other criticism, is now being praised by the USA and Baerbock for being able to get Xi to say that Putin should not use nuclear weapons. This is still perceived as the nuclear taboo. The threat of the NPR 2022 also refers more to North Korea, whereby its annihilation in the event of aggressive North Korean actions by the USA would not even have to be nuclear, especially since China could then also be drawn in or affected. But as it stands, a nuclear upgrade and arms race seems to be imminent, also in the strategic area, and one can wait and see how the next NPR under a Democratic or Trump/Ron De Santis government would turn out, especially since Biden has now indicated a willingness to negotiate with Russia, not yet so much in the Ukraine war, but first of all in the strategic nuclear sector, including arms control, which China has so far rejected.