No First Use A Step Back from the Nuclear Precipice?

John Bolton

With John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, two of Donald Trump’s poodles, on the global travel circuit, threatening just about every nation that doesn’t act in the best interests of the United States (most particularly Russia and China) a recent development in Congress shows that there are at least two politicians that understand the ultimate danger of sabre-rattling.

On January 30th, United States Senator, Senate Armed Services Committee member and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) introduced the bicameral “No First Use Act” which would establish the policy that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.  Here is the entire wording of the Senate bill:

Here is the House Resolution:

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According to the authors of the bill, the No First Use Act would strengthen America’s national security as follows:

1.) Reduce the risk of a nuclear miscalculation by an adversary during a crisis.

2.) Strengthen our deterrence and increasing strategic stability by clarifying our declaratory policy.

3.) Preserve the U.S. second-strike capability to retaliate against any nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies.

Here is a joint statement from Senator Warren and Representative Smith regarding the purpose of the “No First Use Act”:

“Our current nuclear strategy is not just outdated—it is dangerous.  By making clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal, this bill would reduce the chances of a nuclear miscalculation and help us maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world.”

Back in early 2017, another bill was introduced to the House which would have restricted the first used of nuclear weapons.  H.R.669 “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017” which was introduced in the House on January 24, 2017 and it currently languishes in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  This bill would prohibit the first-use of nuclear weapons unless there was a declaration of war by Congress as shown here:

As you can see, of the 82 co-sponsors, there is only one Republican co-sponsor of H.R.669, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-NC-3):

A no first use (NFU) policy is rare among nuclear powers; the first NFU pledge was made in 1964 by China which remains as the only nuclear state to maintain an unconditional NFU pledge.  Even NATO who has sought to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact still maintains a policy of “flexible response“, a policy that was first adopted in December 1967, which allows the alliance to bet he first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, even as a response to an attack using conventional weapons.  Here is a quote from Arms Control regarding America’s use of nuclear weapons:

All 19 nations of NATO, including its three nuclear-capable members, are bound to the object and purposes of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under the treaty, the five recognized nuclear-weapon states have committed themselves to respect a broad prohibition on using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Pledged in the form of negative security assurances (NSAs), the most recent being the one reaffirmed just before the 1995 NPT conference that extended the treaty indefinitely, the nuclear-weapon states promise never to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, except in response to an attack by such a state in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state

The 1995 U.S. NSA reads:

“The United States affirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in the case of an invasion or any attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

It is important to note that the NSA makes no exceptions to allow for a nuclear response to a chemical or biological weapons attack.” (my bold)

In addition, the United States has also not ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons in response to cyberattacks.  

Under the Obama Administration, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review reiterated the 1978 assurance that the United States would not use nuclear weapons against compliant members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but still retained the option to use nuclear weapons first while affirming that the road of these weapons to deter and respond to nonnuclear attacks had declined.  It also affirmed that the fundamental role of nuclear weapons was to deter other nuclear powers from using nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies.

Given that, as shown in this posting, a regional nuclear war could impact the entire globe as shown on this graphic which shows the blanket of particulate material that would blanket the earth after a relatively small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan:

…even the concept of a no first use policy seems rather moot although one must grant that it is a small step back from the precipice should it be adopted by Congress. 

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