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Hal Brands

U.S. Isn’t Ready for Nuclear Rivalry With China and Russia

Joe Biden once envisioned a “world without nuclear weapons,” but Beijing and Moscow are rolling back the clock to the Cold War.

Duck and cover.

Duck and cover.

Source: Pictorial Parade via Getty Images

As vice president in January 2017, Joe Biden gave a speech endorsing the idea of a “world without nuclear weapons.” Last year, he took office pledging to reduce America’s reliance on those weapons — perhaps with a promise that Washington would never use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, or perhaps by cutting, even eliminating, the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. 

Biden’s first year has been a reality check. The threat of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe has reminded American allies of the role that U.S. nuclear weapons might play in their defense. Thanks to a dramatic Chinese nuclear buildup, America will soon confront a nuclear peer in the Pacific. North Korea keeps expanding its arsenal. Some American allies in Europe and Asia have lobbied against a no-first-use pledge or cuts in the U.S. arsenal.