With Biden headed to the White House, what will change on nuclear weapons policy? November 19, 2020

With the election behind us, President-elect (and former Vice President) Joe Biden’s return to the White House will provide a different landscape for activists working toward a nuclear weapons free world. During the campaign, we saw glimpses of the President-elect’s perspective towards nuclear weapons policy. So what can we expect to change?

When a representative from PSR’s allied group Union of Concerned Scientists asked—on the campaign trail—for his opinion on a “No First Use” policy, Biden’s answer was caught on tape.

If you would like to learn more about the President-elect’s stances on nuclear weapons issues, check out this questionnaire by the Council for a Livable World where Biden reveals his thoughts on some key issues. Some excerpts:

Q: Do you agree with former President Ronald Reagan’s statement that a nuclear war can never be won and so must never be fought?

A: “YES. Our nuclear arsenal should be managed in a way that deters the use of nuclear weapons and makes nuclear use less likely. The use of even one nuclear weapon would be catastrophic, cause significant casualties, and result in enduring radiation that could affect millions of humans, as well as the environment. There would be no “winners” in a nuclear exchange.”

Q:  Do you believe the United States can maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal for less than the current estimated costs of $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years?

A: “YES. A Biden administration will work to maintain a strong, credible deterrent while reducing our reliance and excessive expenditure on nuclear weapons. My administration will pursue a sustainable nuclear budget that maintains a viable deterrent for us and our allies.”

Not to be forgotten, the Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, is also an important figure to consider when it comes to potential policy changes around nuclear weapons and defense issues. During the campaign, Harris opposed President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal from international treaties and agreements and promised to “revitalize” U.S. alliances around the world. According to the Council on Foreign Relations,

“Harris voted against increasing defense spending, promised to limit U.S. military engagements abroad, and called white supremacist violence the top domestic terrorism threat. On climate change, she rolled out a plan to direct $10 trillion in public and private spending toward a Green New Deal to transition to a clean economy and address environmental injustices.”

Along with allied organizations, PSR signed onto a letter to the Biden Transition Team organized by the Arms Control Association, to ensure the right issues are prioritized by his administration. In this letter, the organizations indicated “immediate, smart, and bold American leadership is required to reduce the threat of nuclear catastrophe and put us on a path to the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons.” It remains to be seen how many of these defense issues will be top priority for the President- elect in the coming months.

Additionally, PSR has supported the fight to reconsider excessive defense spending, seeing nuclear weapons spending as a crucial part of that debate moving forward. To that end, PSR signed onto  a transition memo, led by our allies at Public Citizen, focused on increasing transparency and accountability and reducing waste at the Pentagon. This memo includes calls to cut investments in the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, new land based missiles, which would save at least 268 billion dollars.

PSR plans to work with these allies to hold the next administration accountable to its commitments and build congressional support to push the President towards a new kind of national defense strategy which prioritizes people over profit. To learn how you can help achieve a nuclear weapons free future, get in touch with PSR national staff or your local PSR chapter.

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