The Biden administration’s nuclear posture review will be bundled with a larger national defense strategy to be released in early 2022, but the administration plans to make a “significant signal” about U.S. force structure before that, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday at a virtual conference.

“The Biden administration and the interim national security strategic guidance did say we were inclined to look for a way to reduce the role the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, but really what that means is, is to narrow the scope of the role of nuclear weapons around those threats that nuclear weapons actually address,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for Policy, said during the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s biennial International Nuclear Policy Conference — Nukefest, colloquially. 

A nuclear posture review is a presidential-level document that examines which nuclear weapons, delivery systems and carrier craft are required to support an overall national defense strategy that also includes conventional weapons and other elements. Biden administration officials have testified in Congress that the next such review will be published around January. 

Presidents, most recently including Donald Trump, can use a nuclear posture review to add or remove weapons from the arsenal, assuming congressional buy-in. Advocates for nuclear disarmament, or at least for a pivot to a smaller arsenal under a doctrine commonly known as minimum deterrence, have criticized the Biden administration for rolling out a 2022 budget request that more or less stays the course on the Trump administration’s strategy.

That includes a low-yield, sea-launched cruise missile scheduled for more development in fiscal year 2022, and a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile that went to sea beginning in December 2019 aboard Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines. 

In the Biden nuclear posture review, “[t]he whole portfolio will be looked at,” Charles Verdon, the acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in congressional testimony Wednesday. The National Nuclear Security Administration is the semi-autonomous part of the Department of Energy that manages U.S. nuclear warhead and bomb programs.