Arms-build-up ‘ghosts’ that will haunt Joe Biden this holiday season


President Biden may not realize it, but he’ll be visited this holiday season by six menacing “Ghosts of Nonproliferation” — weapons build-ups, particularly of the nonconventional sort.

His administration needs to address these scourges in 2024 and prevent them from morphing into larger horrors.

Ghost No. 1: A belligerent Iran that threatens to dash to nuclear weapons and augment its capacity to foment regional and global disorder.

Iran’s belligerence is not in question: Its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and the West Bank have regularly attacked Israel, maritime shipping and US military and diplomatic personnel — in fact, they’ve done so more than 90 times since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack.

Yet the United States has responded just a handful of times. This weak response has failed to establish deterrence.

The Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities, meanwhile, are growing at a rampant pace, with most of this expansion happening on President Biden’s watch.

The regime now has enough enriched uranium to produce fuel for up to 12 nuclear weapons; it can make enough fuel for one weapon within seven days.

Biden has, disturbingly, opted for a policy of appeasement and bribery to attempt to cajole Iran into better behavior. It hasn’t worked.

In 2024, Biden must shift to maximum economic pressure against Tehran, tightening sanctions (and enforcing them) to counter its nuclear advances, and he must respond with major force to attacks by the regime or its proxies.

Ghost No. 2: Nuclear proliferation even beyond Iran, via the spread of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities, the key pathways by which countries produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

The Biden administration is reportedly weighing a proposal to provide uranium-enrichment technology to Saudi Arabia as part of normalization and defense pacts between Riyadh, Jerusalem and Washington.

A uranium-enriching Saudi Arabia could convince other countries — Egypt, South Korea, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — to seek their own capabilities, creating multiple new countries a short technical distance from atomic bombs.

Yet Riyadh does not need enrichment to achieve its nuclear-energy goals. Instead, Washington should include robust nuclear cooperation in a normalization package.

Biden Ghost No. 3: The increased risk that nations — most likely Russia — will resort to using chemical weapons.

Russia has used chemical weapons in at least two assassination attempts against Vladimir Putin’s enemies and threatened to use them again in its war with Ukraine.

Washington has failed to address Moscow’s prolonged non-compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

It can do so now by issuing an ultimatum at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for Russia to demonstrate compliance within 90 days — as it did in 2021 in response to Syria’s egregious use of such weapons.

If the Kremlin fails to comply, the United States and its partners should move to suspend Russia’s OPCW voting rights and privileges and sideline its troublemaking at the organization.

Ghost No. 4: Russia’s nearly two-year war against Ukraine.

Biden has impeded his own efforts by arming Ukraine too slowly with the weapons it requires.

Equally pressing, he must curtail the revenue streams that enable the Kremlin war machine.

Moscow’s state-run nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has not been sanctioned despite the war and is posting billions in sales of nuclear-related supplies to Western nations.

The administration should close this crucial revenue loophole by sanctioning and winding down global business with the company, staggering any new restrictions to allow time to shore up world supplies and prevent market shocks.

Ghost No. 5: North Korea’s expansion of its nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile programs and its support for Russia’s war.

Pyongyang has shipped over 1 million artillery munitions and other materiel for Moscow’s use against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Kim regime’s aggressive missile-testing campaign and nuclear rhetoric has led to South Korea’s open discussion of re-evaluating its own non-nuclear weapons stance.

The administration must increase pressure on North Korea’s revenue sources by implementing sanctions Congress has already passed.

It must also sanction and disrupt Pyongyang’s military cooperation with Moscow.

Ghost No. 6: Perhaps most frightening of all is China’s threats, growing aggression and arms build-up, especially of its nuclear weapons.

The Defense Department assesses that China will amass 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030, up from an estimated 500.

This could be aimed at deterring the United States from responding to any Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Biden at a summit last month he will forcibly reunify with the independent nation if “necessary.”

Biden must ensure that the US nuclear deterrent is modernized and prepared to deter Beijing.

He must also ensure that Taiwan is sufficiently armed and capable of defending itself to deter a Chinese attack.

As the leader of the free world, Biden faces multiple crises that will demand his attention.

He has his work cut out for him.

Failing to prioritize his “Ghosts of Nonproliferation” will significantly exacerbate all global-security challenges.

Anthony Ruggiero (@NatSecAnthony), the former National Security Council senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense in the Trump administration, is a senior fellow and senior director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Andrea Stricker (@StrickerNonpro) is a research fellow and deputy director of the program.

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