WASHINGTON (December 16, 2021)—Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) delivered to President Biden a letter signed by nearly 700 scientists and engineers, including 21 Nobel laureates and 69 members of the National Academies, calling for a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that reduces the risk of nuclear war by limiting the role of nuclear weapons in United States security policy.
“The continuing threat to our very existence from the abundance of nuclear weapons across the world can only be addressed by greatly reducing and ultimately eliminating them,” said Jerome I. Friedman, a recipient of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics, National Academy of Sciences member and signatory of the letter.
The NPR will lay out the Biden administration’s approach to U.S. nuclear weapons policy, including what role nuclear weapons should play in U.S. security, how many and what kinds of nuclear weapons the United States will have, how it will plan to use them, and how they fit in with the rest of its military and foreign policy plans. The Biden administration is expected to complete its NPR in early 2022.
“We live in perilous times, perhaps the most dangerous since the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union,” said Stephen Young, UCS senior Washington representative and acting director of the Global Security Program. “President Biden should take the advice of these scientists, who are calling for sensible changes in nuclear policy that will reduce the likelihood of nuclear war. Several of the steps recommended in the letter are ones that President Biden has previously supported.”
The letter urges President Biden to reduce the risk of nuclear war by declaring the U.S. will never use nuclear weapons first and by ending the unchecked authority given to U.S. presidents to order the use of nuclear weapons by requiring the approval of one or more additional government officials. As vice president and as candidate for president, Biden expressed support for eliminating the option of first use of nuclear weapons and reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Notably, nuclear-armed countries China and India already have “no first use” policies in place.
“Given that nuclear weapons have the potential to end human life on Earth forever, it is wise to develop as many safeguards as we can,” said John C. Mather, a recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics and National Academy of Sciences member. “We already have enough weapons to end all human life; it is unnecessary to build more.”
The group also recommends cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal by reducing the number of deployed nuclear weapons and canceling plans to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. As of July 2021, the U.S. had 1,357 nuclear weapons deployed. A Pentagon assessment under President Obama found the U.S. could reduce its arsenal to 1,000 weapons while maintaining its security. The replacement of the Minuteman III is estimated to cost $100 billion to produce and another $164 billion to maintain over its lifespan.
“Nuclear weapons are never going to be the answer. Why would we or anyone else want to wipe out most if not all of humanity?” asked Sir Richard Roberts, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Medicine. “The sooner we reduce the number and set an example for others to do so also, the more likely it is that our civilization can continue.”