July 04, 2021

Time for US nuclear strategy to embrace no first use

It was one of the most potent lessons of the Cold War — nukes are good for deterring others from using nukes, but not much else. Weapons capable only of spasmodic mass violence are too crude as a credible tool of coercion in most circumstances. If the United States seeks only deterrence, but not political advantage from nuclear weapons, then adopting a no-first use nuclear policy is not just low-risk — it’s necessary.

Most of the leading candidates campaigning for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination publicly endorsed a no-first use policy. Legislation requiring it has growing support in the US Congress. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any scenario where the United States gains from using nuclear weapons before an adversary, especially when Washington’s conventional arsenal has global reach.

No first use is the most meagre of many measures needed to restrain US presidential authority in the nuclear realm.

A no-first use nuclear policy would therefore be honest nuclear policy. No sane president would use nuclear weapons before an adversary did, except perhaps out of tragic misperception. But since the Trump presidency, the imperative of a no-first use policy has grown more urgent.

Only a fool would trust in US strategic competence after the decision-making of the Trump era. Trump was a symptom not an anomaly of US politics today. He has spawned many imitators in the Republican Party, who traffic in conspiracy theories and promote antagonistic, militaristic and racialised foreign policies to score domestic political points.

Who wants to entrust a candidate of the far right with the authority to launch nuclear weapons? No first use is the most meagre of many measures needed to restrain US presidential authority in the nuclear realm.

Read the full article from East Asia Forum.

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