Analysis & Opinions - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

To Enhance National Security, the Biden Administration Will Have to Trim an Exorbitant Defense Wish List

| Mar. 13, 2024

If forced to choose one word to describe the tenor and tone of the recent commission report on America’s Strategic Posture, "panic" would certainly be appropriate. 

The report articulates the daunting challenges of the strategic environment confronting the United States, and some of its recommendations are sensible—where feasible—in the abstract. However, the failure of the commission to prioritize among alternative—and potentially competing—needs is a fatal flaw in the final product. The lack of any consideration of the resource constraints certain to influence future policy is also an egregious oversight. Ultimately, the report reads as a panicked response to a worst-case threat assessment with little useful guidance beyond the perceived need for more investments in both conventional and nuclear—including strategic and non-strategic—capabilities.

Mandated by the US Congress in 2021 and presented in October 2023, the report was produced by a bipartisan commission of a dozen former officials and experts in the field of nuclear weapons and is the culmination of nearly a year of study. The task of the commission was "to conduct a review of the strategic posture of the United States and to make recommendations on how to move forward." The commission achieved its first objective—albeit in exceedingly pessimistic, alarmist terms. In terms of moving forward, however, the report is an abject failure.

The release of President Biden's budget for fiscal 2025 this week provides Congress the opportunity to engage in some of the prioritization of an extensive and expensive wish-list of programs that the strategic posture report recommends, all but ignoring cost and efficacy considerations. Yet even with a commitment to high levels of spending, it is not clear that the defense industrial base and the nuclear enterprise possess the capacity to deliver on desired programs. Bipartisan agreement to "spend more" will do little to enhance national security in the absence of clear priorities.

Sounding the alarm. The United States is in the process of implementing a decades-long nuclear modernization program initiated under the Obama administration....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kearn, David .“To Enhance National Security, the Biden Administration Will Have to Trim an Exorbitant Defense Wish List.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 13, 2024.