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ICYMI: Risch at Heritage: Sole Purpose Would Embolden Russia and China

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today spoke at the Heritage Foundation during an event titled “U.S. Nuclear Declaratory Policy and the Future of Extended Deterrence.” 

Risch on the podium at Heritage Foundation event

Senator Risch gave the following remarks:

“Good morning and thank you to Heritage for having me here today. It’s good to be back and discussing a topic that Heritage has done so much good work on over many, many years. This conversation is of particular significance to not only our own national security, but to the security of our allies and partners.

“It’s important we talk about this today. I believe, and I think you’ll hear as I go through this, I believe that the administration is making a serious mistake in even considering this, as even considerations have consequences in this arena.

“For decades, U.S. administrations embraced the long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity regarding the use of nuclear weapons. 

“Previous administrations have considered changing to a “no first use” policy, but realized international security was more important than ideology.

“The Obama Administration itself studied this closely and rejected such a policy change twice. Earlier this year, our British allies also rejected this change. I think part of this is due to the fact that not only did common sense prevail but also the strong, strong feelings of our allies also prevailed.

“Over time, in an effort to change the terms of debate, proponents relabeled the concept as “sole purpose,” but the idea is the same. This is a common strategy used by people who are not getting their way and think by simply relabeling they can somehow change the dialog. That is wrong here.

“If the Biden Administration adopts a “sole purpose” nuclear declaratory policy, it will scare our friends, embolden our adversaries, and damage the very nonproliferation goals it claims to support. Again, relabeling does nothing to the underlying conditions.

“I believe the Biden Administration’s consideration of such a policy misses key points about U.S. nuclear forces and their role in international security. 

“First, U.S. nuclear weapons are essential to the deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear aggression. Conventional forces cannot provide a similar level of deterrence as nuclear weapons. Tailored and flexible U.S. nuclear deterrence ensures adversaries do not miscalculate, and instead understand they cannot benefit from conventional or limited nuclear escalation.

“Second, as I wrote in a committee report 11 years ago, U.S. nuclear forces provide an umbrella that also protects our treaty allies around the world, including NATO allies and Japan. This deterrent both reassures them and removes the need for them to build their own nuclear weapons. 

“A “no first use,” or what is now called, “sole purpose” nuclear declaratory policy, or any perceived weakening of U.S. nuclear deterrence, would be a betrayal of our allies. Weakness is not appreciated by our allies or our enemies. It would cause them to lose confidence in the Biden Administration’s allegiance to NATO’s Article 5 commitments. And it would call into question U.S. commitments to transatlantic and northeast Asian security.

“This administration claims it wants to strengthen U.S. alliances. Yet, U.S. allies have recently and repeatedly told me personally, and have told the administration, they strongly object to changing to a “no first use” or, what the liberals label, a “sole purpose” policy. This administration should listen to our allies.

“A switch to a “no first use” policy would first and foremost embolden China and Russia.

“China is rapidly expanding and improving its nuclear arsenal. It is fielding a full triad, building more than 300 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles, increasing its nuclear alert level, and mixing nuclear and conventional missiles at numerous locations. China recently tested an orbital delivery system with a hypersonic glide vehicle that appears to be a first-use weapon.

“Why would a country that has historically kept a small nuclear arsenal and a low alert level suddenly change course? 

“China’s increasing nuclear capabilities will enable its already immense and growing conventional forces to become more aggressive. With this backdrop, a U.S. sole purpose policy would play right into China’s hands and increase the risk of Chinese conventional aggression.

“Russia has also pursued a massive nuclear modernization effort. It has grown its already-large tactical nuclear forces. And it is developing and fielding new exotic strategic delivery systems, including hypersonic missiles, nuclear powered cruise missiles, and nuclear-powered undersea drones.

“At the same time Russia threatens more and more aggression against its neighbors, most notably towards Ukraine. Moscow will see a U.S. sole purpose policy as an indication of U.S. weakness and withdrawal from European security.

“In the wake of a “sole purpose” policy, U.S. allies will question U.S. commitments and credibility, and likely seek alternatives to their traditional reliance on the United States nuclear umbrella. Such alternatives would inevitably lead to the proliferation of nuclear capabilities, which U.S. policy has long sought to prevent. Sole purpose could thus easily increase nuclear dangers, not reduce them. 

“Proponents of sole purpose have been clear about their true intent: to justify major unilateral reductions in U.S. nuclear forces, regardless of growing threats or objections from our allies.

“In the face of nuclear challenges from China and Russia, the United States must instead maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent that protects the homeland, assures allies, and deters such adversaries.

“We must proceed with long-planned modernization programs. They are long overdue and we have been promised more work in that area. Which promises have not as yet gotten to where they need to be. We’re going to continue to pursue that. That includes a full nuclear triad, non-strategic nuclear capabilities, a robust command and control system, and a recapitalized nuclear weapons complex.

“Endorsing a sole purpose doctrine and surrendering our nuclear capabilities before the rest of the world agrees to do so will only destabilize the international system.

“As this administration completes its Nuclear Posture Review, senior officials need to look at the facts. Nuclear deterrence works. It has promoted international security and served the United States and our allies well for more than 70 years. As China and Russia rush to build up their nuclear programs, it would be wrong, and incredibly dangerous, to abandon this proven policy.

“I look forward to hearing more on this topic from today’s distinguished panelists, Representative Taro Kono of the Japanese House of Representatives, and Lord George Robertsen, former UK Defence Secreary and former Secretary General of NATO, and current Labour Peer. These allied voices are critical in this debate, and I am honored to have this opportunity to open this discussion. And I truly look forward to hearing their views.

“Thank you for having me.”

More information about the event can be found on the Heritage Foundation website here.