The Biden administration’s nuclear policies and budget are too ambiguous or otherwise wide reaching to provide the type of conflict deterrence that is expected of them, according to several experts.
“How are you going to contain Russia and China?” said Harlan Ullman, a senior advisor at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “The policy statements don’t tell you. They’re aspirational.”
Ullman’s comments referenced the few statements made by the Biden administration about its National Defense Strategy (NDS) and National Security Strategy (NSS), neither of which has been released in unclassified form, and which were largely constructed on classified information.
He noted also that the Pentagon would be unlikely to deliver on any large-scale strategic modernization efforts, given the fact that the nation was at a record $30 trillion in debt and was facing immense economic strain from 40-year record-high inflation.
Further, Ullman said that the administration’s concept for nuclear deterrence was being pushed beyond its limits, and would prove an Achilles’ heel in the administration’s strategy unless more work was done to credibly improve the nation’s non-nuclear, or “conventional” forces.
“How are you going to deter Russia and China, and from what?” Ullman said. “Nuclear deterrence has been expanded far beyond its usefulness. It’s going to prevent a major world war, but let’s not believe it can do lots of other things.”
A Growing Strategy and a Shrinking Military
Ullman delivered the comments amid a series of discussions on the nature of the Biden administration’s grand strategy at the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank.
The talks coincided with a series of Congressional hearings over the past week, which examined the administration’s proposed defense budget for FY23, and the role of the NDS and NSS in guiding that budget.
Republican lawmakers criticized the budget as being a real cut to military spending given that the budget only allots a 2.2 percent inflation rate instead of the actual 8.5 percent, as well as for proposing to cut the number of ships and aircraft in the military amid growing tensions between the United States, China, and Russia.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that the proposed budget would place the United States at “real risk.” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), meanwhile, said that the budget did not meet the needs of President Joe Biden’s own strategy.