“US Nuclear Policy Under Biden: Prospects and Challenges”
February 25, 2021
The Arms Control and Disarmament Centre (ACDC) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) organised a Panel Discussion on “US Nuclear Policy Under Biden: Prospects and Challenges” on Thursday, February 25, 2021, on Zoom. The panel of experts included: Mr. James M. Acton, Co-director of Nuclear Policy Programme, Carnegie Endowments for International Peace; Dr. Petr Topychkanov, Senior Researcher, Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI); Mr. Xu Chunyang, Senior Researcher, China Arms Control and Disarmament Association (CACDA); Mr. Usman Iqbal Jadoon, Director General, UN Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Dr. Adil Sultan, Dean/Head of Department, Faculty of Aerospace and Strategic Studies (FASSS), Air University Islamabad.
Mr. James M. Acton said that the Biden administration’s first step was to extend the New START which was a quick and welcome step. However, a greater challenge will be the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). If Iran will come back to the deal, the US will come back to the deal. With the JCPOA there will have to be negotiations of the sequencing to getting back to the deal. He said that a simultaneous process is possible and he is optimistic about the JCOPA revival. On the future approach to arms control, he said that as opposed to Trump’s trilateral approach, Biden has indicated that the US will engage with Russia on one tract and China on a separate. He said the greatest challenge for the US is North Korea’s nuclear capability. He noted that the US approach towards the issue will require painful reassessment – perhaps capping the threat may be more realistic rather than rollback.
Dr. Petr Topychkanov stressed that the New START extension is important because it is the beginning of something bigger. However, the extension is not the beginning or end but a continuation of arms control arrangements between the US and Russia. The biggest value of the New START extension is that in the next five year to continue this conversation must be broader – to include more items in this conversation and more countries. Issues that the two countries needed to work on include: how to deal with medium-to short-range missiles and their deployments, tactical nuclear weapons or low yield nuclear capabilities, a broader conversation on ballistic missile defence, and dialogue on doctrinal issues. He suggested, if possible, it is important for the US and Russia to delink political issues from the arms control agenda. He said that now it is a competition of technologies between the US and Russia which is more dangerous than a traditional arms competition.
Mr. Xu Chunyang, said that the US and other powers must seek new arms control arrangements to maintain strategic stability and prevent an arms race. He said that on the North Korean nuclear issue, the US has deployed missile defence systems around the Korean Peninsula, which has made China and Russia uncomfortable and insecure. Biden administration needs to adjust its policy. He also emphasised that addressing new technologies like cyberattacks would be important for Biden’s policy. Next-generation arms control initiatives are needed to maintain US leadership in global non-proliferation.
Mr. Usman Iqbal Jadoon highlighted that there is a need to bring new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, hypersonic missiles, cyberthreats, and space-based military capabilities arrangements under arms control arrangements. He had a bleak view of efforts to regulate these technologies because no great power wants to give up its strategic advantage. Efforts at arms control or regulation start only once there is the proliferation of technologies and competition between countries intensifies. He stressed that in the field of emerging technologies India is getting ahead. If these technologies degrade Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities it would be a major concern for Pakistan. Thus, there is an urgent need for regulating new technologies.
Dr. Adil Sultan on the implication of US nuclear policy towards South Asia said that the US arms control approach has been consistent and we can expect a continuation of previous US policy. There is bipartisan agreement in the US that the Indian defence capability must be enhanced to build it up against China. This is directly affecting South Asian security. The US has tried to bring India into the nuclear mainstream. There have been efforts to make India a permanent member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and creating waivers for it. He opined that Indo Pacific policy has primacy and the US will continue its policy of giving primacy to India. However, the US- India partnership should not be at the expense of Pakistan’s security. He expressed concern that there are no questions asked for any capabilities India is developing. However, the Indian capabilities cannot be used against China because it is powerful but there is concern that it will be used against Pakistan.
Earlier, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary, Director General ISSI, extended a warm welcome to the international and national panellists.
Malik Qasim Mustafa, Director ACDC-ISSI said in his introductory remarks that the US nuclear and arms control policy went under a major shift during the Trump administration. Trump not only withdrew from major arms control and disarmament treaties but he also proposed to develop low-yield nuclear weapons capabilities and tried to erode the norms against the use of nuclear weapons. Trump administration was also interested to resume nuclear testing. However, the new Biden administration is ready to revisit Trump’s major policy decisions and is willing to re-engage on bilateral and multilateral issues. Biden believes in using diplomacy and restraints in nuclear and arms control matters. He has already extended the New START treaty and offered to restart nuclear talks with Iran which are welcoming developments.
Amb. Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BOG ISSI,said that President Biden has indicated that his approach to arms control will be different than that of Trump. He has demonstrated it by extending New START after taking office. He said that bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral avenues to arms control and disarmament must be pursued. However, he emphasised that it is important to apply arms control arrangements indiscriminately otherwise their efficacy is lost. There are different standards for India and Pakistan in the arms control and export control regime which erode their efficacy.
The panel discussion was followed by an interactive discussion.