With the Nuclear Posture Review, say congressional lawmakers, the president can ensure that “future generations can finally be free from the nuclear sword of Damocles that hangs over all our heads.”

By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams

Ahead of the release of a key document laying out the administration’s nuclear doctrine, President Joe Biden is facing a fresh call from Democrats in Congress to firmly reject what they see as former President Donald Trump’s misguided and dangerous policies on atomic weapons.

The demand from a bicameral group of over 50 lawmakers comes as the Biden administration finishes its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) at a time when the U.S. and nuclear-armed Russia and China modernize their stockpiles. Just last week, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned that the ongoing threat from nuclear weapons only serves to further cement humanity’s position “at doom’s doorstep.”

As the lawmakers frame it in their new letter to Biden, the NPR, which could be released next month, represents “a defining moment” and offers the president an opportunity to ensure “future generations can finally be free from the nuclear sword of Damocles that hangs over all our heads.”

Trump's nuclear weapons policies

“It is your best chance to take bold steps that reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons, elevate arms control, and, retire President Trump’s new, unnecessary warfighting nuclear weapons,” the lawmakers said.

Led by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.)—who previously urged Biden to reduce the nuclear stockpile—the new letter outlines a number of steps the administration should take including engaging “high-level diplomacy” with Russia and China.

One component of the NPR should indicate “the United States’ full support for formal negotiations with Russia, with the express goal of placing mutual limits on the deployment of destabilizing new weapons that only increase the risk of an inadvertent nuclear war.”

The document should also give “priority to negotiating confidence and transparency building measures with China,” the lawmakers wrote, pointing to “a diplomatic window to convince” Chinese leader Xi Jinping that his country “would have learned all the wrong lessons of the Cold War if it were to massively expand its strategic forces, a move that ultimately would be self-defeating.”

Of particular concern, the letter states, are reports that “few substantive changes” from former President Donald Trump’s NPR in 2018 will be reflected in the Biden document.

That’s troubling, the lawmakers wrote, because “a status quo posture that does not measurably reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy threatens to throw into overdrive the Cold War arms race action-reaction cycle, with Russia and China likely to race to deploy new offensive and defensive capabilities to counter any perceived U.S. nuclear advantage.”

What’s needed instead, they wrote, is “a clean break with President Trump’s policies,” which would “send a strong signal to Russia and China that the United States believes restraint and nuclear arms reduction are measures of a country’s great power status, not nuclear weapons overkill.”

Pointing to a joint statement out earlier this month from the U.S. and four other nuclear-armed states affirming that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” the lawmakers said Biden must further “declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies, and that the United States will never use nuclear weapons first.”

The new letter comes a month after nearly 700 hundred scientists and engineers including Nobel laureates similarly urged Biden to outline the new NPR with a no-first-use of nuclear weapons policy and commitment toward disarmament.

Earlier this month, Veterans for Peace released its own “nuclear posture review” that recommended the U.S. sign onto and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“Nuclear weapons are a threat to the very existence of human civilization,” said Ken Mayers, a retired Marine Corps major, in a statement from Veterans for Peace, “so the U.S. nuclear posture is too important to be left to the cold warriors at the Pentagon.”