On nuclear weapons policy, Biden beats Trump

There are a lot of uncertainties about the result of a nuclear war, but one thing seems clear: it would be bad. How bad depends on things like who we go to war with, number of nuclear weapons used, weather patterns, etc. Wikipedia documents some estimates that the US government produced during the cold war as saying that nuclear war with the Soviet Union could lead to the death of 70% of all Americans. My wife and I have two kids. If 70% of us die, that's three out of the four people in our family. My kids, my wife, gone.

Since the cold war, the number of nuclear weapons stockpiled has been reduced by about 85%. That said, there are over ten thousand nuclear weapons in the world, over half operated by other countries. Things would still be very bad if we got into a nuclear war.

In a lot of ways, I see nuclear war deterrence as one of the more important responsibilities of a US president. It doesn't matter what other policies they put in place if they get us involved in a war that kills 70% of Americans. I want a president that will continue drawdown of current nuclear stockpiles, prevent other countries from continuing their nuclear weapons programs, and provide stability to the international environment. That's one part of why I'm going to vote for Biden.

As President, Donald Trump has spent the last four years making our country much less safe from nuclear war. It can be hard to evaluate some of the nuclear decisions his administration has made, given the international landscape. Unilateral disarmament seems likely to make the US less safe, and modernizing our nuclear arsenal improves reliability and safety. Because of that, we have to look at all of the administration's decisions as a whole to determine if they're improving the security of Americans.

The Trump administration has:

  • actively called for development of new nuclear weapons (both in type and in quantity).
  • focused on increasing capabilities to match Russia and China, instead of negotiating for more international drawdown
  • broadened the definition of "extreme circumstances" under which nuclear weapons could be used
  • pulled out of the INF. This was done because Russia wasn't meeting targets, but the INF governed more than just the US and Russia. Pulling out of the INF reduces leverage on other nuclear powers governed by the treaty, as well as those not officially in the treaty but who abided by it (like Germany and Slovakia).
  • introduced development of low-yield nuclear weapons
  • looks likely to not extend the New START treaty, which places limits on the number of nuclear weapons Russia and the US can deploy. Russia is currently complying with that treaty.

In addition to leaving nuclear non-proliferation treaties and calling for development of new nuclear weapons, the Trump administration has also completely failed to reign in North Korea and Iran.

North Korea currently has around 30 nuclear weapons and can produce something like 6 more weapons each year. Several years ago, North Korea offered to start reducing nuclear capabilities in exchange for lifting of sanctions, but Trump walked away. A couple months ago, North Korea said that negotiating with Trump had been "a nightmare" and that they were going to increase their nuclear weapons stockpile.

Iran's nuclear weapons development had, prior to Trump's election, been governed by the JCPOA. The JCPOA was an agreement between Iran, the US, and several other nations. It governed how Iran was to eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium. Iran would still be able to build nuclear power plants, but not to enrich enough to build nuclear weapons. In 2018, Trump's administration withdrew from that agreement over the protest of every other member (including Iran). After the US withdrew, Iran and the other countries in JCPOA attempted to continue abiding by the agreement. The US's withdrawal from JCPOA led to series of skirmishes which culminated in the US killing an Iranian major general. In response to that killing, Iran has said that they won't abide by the JCPOA at all. By their actions, the Trump administration increased the likelihood of Iran getting nuclear weapons.

Let's contrast with Biden. Biden wants to extend the New START treaty. He wants to drawdown nuclear stockpiles. We have evidence from his decades in politics of him working to reduce the likelihood of nuclear war. Biden has also released a letter describing his approach to nuclear disarmement treaties in the past.

This quote in particular is why I think Biden will manage our nuclear policy well:

"Despite what some extreme voices argued at the time, the arms control agreements we hammered out with the Soviets were not concessions to an enemy or signs of weakness in the United States.
They were a carefully constructed barrier between the American people and total annihilation."

Joe Biden