President Biden and Vice President Harris with US Armed Forces generals. Credit: The White House via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.
Less than two months into his term of office, President Joseph R. Biden signaled a renewed commitment to US arms control leadership. As expected, he extended the New START Treaty by executive action in his first week in office, securing a five-year cap on the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons in the US and Russian arsenals. More surprisingly, the White House issued an Interim National Security Strategy Guidance in early March that planted arms control firmly in the Biden administration’s national security strategy:
We will head off costly arms races and re-establish our credibility as a leader in arms control. That is why we moved quickly to extend the New START Treaty with Russia. Where possible, we will also pursue new arms control arrangements. We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible. And we will engage in meaningful dialogue with Russia and China on a range of emerging military technological developments that implicate strategic stability.
The phrase “Where possible” is an important caveat that suggests the Biden administration has not underestimated the difficulty of next steps in arms control. Strained relations with Russia or China constitute one hurdle but can be ameliorated by mending or