An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) off the coast of California in 2008.

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) off the coast of California in 2008. U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ronald Gutridge

Biden’s Nuke Review Omits ‘No First Use’, Kills Naval Cruise Missile

The president, who pledged during the campaign to use nuclear weapons only in response to a similar attack, declined to set that as U.S. policy.

President Joe Biden has walked back from his longtime preferred policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, according to his administration’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, which also seeks to shrink nuclear arsenals, starting with a new missile introduced under Donald Trump. 

His long-awaited policy review says the United States “would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners,” according to a three-paragraph summary released by the Pentagon Tuesday. 

During his campaign, candidate Biden said he continued to support the idea of a “no first use” policy: that the United States would launch a nuclear weapon only in response to a nuclear attack. But this support never became official policy for the United States, which has for decades maintained a policy of “flexible deterrence.” 

“The Nuclear Posture Review language does not apply exclusively to nuclear attack but extends to extreme circumstances that would require the United States to defend allies and partners,” assistant defense secretary for international security affairs Celeste Wallander told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday. 

The summary said the administration will pursue “strategic stability, seek to avoid costly arms races, and facilitate risk reduction and arms control arrangements where possible.”

“The NPR underscores our commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons and reestablishing our leadership in arms control,” it said. 

It added that the full unclassified version of the NPR and also of the 2022 Missile Defense Review would be “forthcoming.” 

In a background briefing with reporters before the release of the proposed 2023 budget, a senior defense official confirmed that the Navy’s nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile, SLCM-N, had been defunded as a result of the 2022 posture review and “direction from the President to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our defense strategy.” 

SLCM-N was announced by the Trump administration in its own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. It was intended to provide the Navy a nuclear cruise missile, about a decade after the last of its nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles were retired in 2013.

At the time of its retirement, the Federation of American Scientists wrote that the Navy was “finally out of the non-strategic nuclear weapons business.” The Tomahawk nuclear cruise missile “had little military value but huge political consequences when they sailed into ports of allied countries whose governments were forced to ignore violation of their own non-nuclear policies.”

Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.

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