The Pentagon released its latest National Defense Strategy Thursday, outlining a policy that calls for more deterrence and focuses largely on the growing threats posed by Russia and China, but defended its plans to cut U.S. nuclear capabilities through the elimination of two programs.
The document, now released in its declassified form after having been given to Congress in March, shows the United States is planning to discontinue the B83-1 gravity bomb, which is delivered by nuclear aircraft and does not contain a guidance system, as well as the nuclear-armed Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) program, reports Fox News.
When asked why the programs were being cut as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens the use of nuclear weapons in the war with Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. "inventory of nuclear weapons is significant" and he does not think the cuts send a message to Putin, because "he understands what our capability is."
Austin also described Putin as "reckless" and called him the largest threat to Europe since World War II, but still, unlike China, "Russia cannot systemically challenge the United States in the long term."
However, he said Russian aggression "does pose an immediate and sharp threat to our interests and values."
The document talks about Russia being armed with 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, but not being limited by treaties that would keep those numbers from rising, reports The New York Times.
It then raises the possibility that Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, "would use these forces to try to win a war on its periphery or avoid defeat if it was in danger of losing a conventional war."
Concerning China, the document outlines the country's plans to expand its nuclear arsenal to reach about 1,000 strategic weapons in upcoming years, and says the growing consideration of nuclear weapons for both countries "heightens the risks."
The new document reviews the nuclear arsenal and missile defenses of the United States as well.
The last defense strategy was published in 2018 by the Trump administration and was the first since the Cold War ended to refocus defenses on China and Russia. President Joe Biden's document, though, expands on that description, calling China a "pacing" challenger through technological and military advances, and Russia as a declining power but still an "acute" threat.
The document is used to guide the Pentagon's policy and budget decisions on the development of weapons and the capabilities of the armed forces, among other issues, but this time, the defense strategy under Biden differs from the document issued when he was vice president to President Barack Obama.
In that one, the strategy called for drastic cuts to the role of nuclear weapons to defend the United States, and called for shared efforts with Russia and China to both keep Iran from building nuclear weapons and to contain the threat from North Korea.
"The P.R.C. [People's Republic of China] and Russia now pose more dangerous challenges to safety and security at home, even as terrorist threats persist," the document released Thursday read.
The strategy also points out both countries have "space-based capabilities that support military power and daily civilian life."
Congress in March, upon receiving the classified version of the strategy, released its 2-page fact sheet summarizing the contents. The unclassified version out Thursday runs almost 80 pages long and was delayed earlier this month when the administration announced its national security strategy, with Biden specifying he was more concerned about China than Russia.
In the Pentagon's document, hypersonic weapons, advanced chemical and biological weapons, and new and emerging warheads were listed as particular threats.
"The department will focus on deterring Russian attacks on the United States, NATO members, and other allies, reinforcing our ironclad treaty commitments, to include conventional aggression that has the potential to escalate to nuclear employment of any scale," the new document said.
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