ACTION ALERT: Nuclear Stand-down -- No-First-Use
October 4, 2016
Hon. Diane Russell / US House of Representatives & Dominic Tierney / The Atlantic Magazine
Regardless who is in the Oval Office, the president's unchecked power to launch nuclear weapons is a problem. It's not one we've had to think about since the Cold War . . . until now. President Obama is considering a "No First Use" policy that would commit the US to only using a nuclear weapon in response to a nuclear attack. No First Use is the only sane policy. Without it, we invite one person's dangerous thinking or misperception to dictate the future of our civilization. This is a risk our world cannot afford.
ACTION ALERT: Nuclear Stand-down – No-First-Use
Hon. Diane Russell / US House of Representatives
WASHINGTON, DC (October 3, 2016) -- As I've watched this presidential election, the one thing I keep thinking is that I don't want Donald Trump and his "temperament" anywhere near the nuclear codes. But, regardless who is in the Oval Office, the president's unchecked authority to launch nuclear weapons is a problem. It's not one we've had to think about since the Cold War . . . until now, but it's ever present.
Imagine if President Kennedy had moved a ship during the Cuban Missile Crisis, let alone launched one. When it comes to nuclear weapons, there is simply too much risk that the president could miscalculate, make a brash decision, or make a mistake that decides the fate of our entire planet.
President Obama is considering a "No First Use" policy, which would commit the United States to only using a nuclear weapon in response to a nuclear attack. No First Use is the only sane policy. Without it, we invite one person's dangerous thinking or misperception to dictate the future of our civilization. This is a risk our world cannot afford.
A No First Use policy removes ambiguity around crisis situations while significantly decreasing the risk of a deadly miscalculation or unnecessary escalation. It demonstrates that nuclear weapons are for deterrence only. More importantly, it clearly outlines the rules of engagement in advance while removing the rationale or incentive for other countries to develop a nuclear arsenal of their own.
ACTION: Demand a check on the president's unilateral power to launch nuclear weapons! Urge President Obama to make "No First Use" official US nuclear policy!
Thank you for all you do to make our country a better place! Don't forget to get out and vote!
Diane Russell is a member of the US House of Representatives from Portland, Maine.
Read The Atlantic article, "Refusing to Nuke First," below.
The Honorable Barrack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
We applaud the vision that you laid out in your 2009 Prague address to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Therefore, as your administration reviews potential initiatives to further reduce the danger from nuclear weapons, we write to urge you to adopt a clear policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons.
We are troubled by the current US and Russian launch-under-attack postures, which significantly increase the risk of catastrophic miscalculation and full-scale nuclear war. This problem is exacerbated by our current nuclear weapons policy, which is a dangerous and outdated vestige of the Cold War practice of leaving the nuclear option "on the table" to respond to certain non-nuclear threats to our homeland and our allies.
As you know, were the United States to exercise its contingency plans to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict against a nuclear-armed adversary, a full-scale nuclear exchange could ensue, killing thousands of civilians. For the security and safety of the world, military options that can spiral towards mutually assured destruction should not be on the table.
Shifting to a no-first-use policy is the right thing for today's 21st century security needs. Moreover, this new policy would not undermine our nation's ability to protect our allies, including Japan, South Korea, and our NATO allies in Europe.
The United States has and will retain overwhelming conventional land, sea, and air forces to counter any non-nuclear attack on their territory. Furthermore, given the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons, it would be unwise for a US President to use nuclear weapons -- for the first time in more than seven decades -- to deal with a non-nuclear threat.
A clear no-first-use policy also has a number of benefits, including:
* Reducing the risk of miscalculation by adversaries by alleviating concerns about US intentions.
* Raising the bar for nuclear weapons use by any nuclear-armed state.
* Minimizing the need for "first strike" weapons, including the next-generation nuclear-armed cruise missile and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could generate significant cost savings and lead other nuclear-armed states to make similar calculations.
Your visit to Hiroshima and pledge to "end the logic of fear" gave the world renewed hope that the United States would take meaningful steps to reduce the nuclear threat. We believe now is the time to make this policy change and urge you to move forward without delay. Thank you in advance for your consideration and we look forward to working with you in the final months of your administration.
Refusing to Nuke First
Why rejecting nuclear preemption reflects strength, not weakness
Dominic Tierney / The Atlantic Magazine
(September 14, 2016) -- On September 5, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is weighing whether to adopt a so-called "no-first-use" nuclear doctrine. This would allow the United States to launch nuclear weapons only if the enemy deployed them first. Such a change would be a dramatic policy shift: Washington has always kept the option of a preemptive strike on the table.
Under President Obama, a no-first-use doctrine has been widely regarded as an idealistic policy for the United States -- a noble, if controversial, step toward achieving his goal of "a world without nuclear weapons." Through self-restraint, and the disavowal of a first strike, America could "escape the logic of fear," as Obama said at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial last May.
Indeed, conservatives have condemned the no-first-use pledge as another instance of typical liberal naivete on defense matters, or of "ticking the boxes the far-Left long wanted ticked."
By removing the first-strike option, the argument goes, Washington will weaken America's nuclear deterrent, embolden its enemies, and undermine allies like Japan that rely on the US nuclear umbrella.
Even many of Obama's top foreign-policy advisors are concerned by the potential security implications of this idea. Under a storm of pressure, the president may very well decide that no-first-use is a bridge too far.
But many of the arguments both for and against no-first-use misunderstand it: The policy reflects the power to set the rules of war, rather than some wayward pacifist ideal to end all war. Countries that issue no-first-use pledges boast strong conventional militaries.
These states want to encourage a model of war where their army meets the enemy on a conventional battlefield with clearly defined rules -- the kind of war, in other words, that they usually win.
Nuclear weapons upend this model, because they help weaker actors, the North Koreas and Pakistans of the world, produce extraordinary destruction, level the playing field, and cast victory into doubt.
Therefore, a no-first-use pledge could potentially reinforce a powerful state's strategic advantage by discouraging other countries from developing nuclear arsenals, and by dissuading nuclear-armed countries from pushing the button. This would happen with the assurance that America would not fire first -- thereby keeping war safely bound and safely winnable, on the powerful state's terms.
The same logic helps explain why the United States is far more concerned if 1,000 Syrians die from chemical weapons than if 100,000 Syrians die from guns and explosives. Normalizing the use of chemical weapons around the world is not in the US strategic interest because Washington wants to keep conflict in its comfort zone of conventional warfare. If US officials concluded that chemical weapons were, in fact, of critical strategic value, they would likely soon abandon their moral reservations over their use.
Countries that contemplate or introduce a no-first-use policy are almost always strong states that enjoy a conventional-weapons edge. Since its first nuclear test in 1964, China has repeatedly declared that it "undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances."
It's no coincidence that China is the most powerful East Asian country, and would hold the advantage in any conventional war with South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, or Taiwan (assuming, of course, that the United States stayed out). The spread of nuclear weapons in East Asia would diminish China's strategic advantage; therefore, Beijing seeks to prevent this outcome with a no-first-use policy.
Meanwhile, India announced in 1999 that it "will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail."
In 2003, India qualified its no-first-use pledge by stating, "in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons."
Again, it's no coincidence that India is very likely to prevail over Pakistan in a future conventional war. India has a history of winning previous contests, and currently spends about $50 billion per year on defense compared to Pakistan's $9.5 billion. New Delhi can safely issue a no-first-use pledge in the hope of keeping the strategic terrain favorable.
Last month, General James E. Cartwright, former head of the US Strategic Command, and Bruce G. Blair, former Minuteman launch officer, co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times in favor of a US no-first-use policy. They showed, explicitly, how power undergirds the proposed doctrine.
"Our nonnuclear strength, including economic and diplomatic power, our alliances, our conventional and cyber weaponry and our technological advantages, constitute a global military juggernaut unmatched in history. The United States simply does not need nuclear weapons to defend its own and its allies' vital interests, as long as our adversaries refrain from their use."
By contrast, weak states don't even think about a no-first-use policy. Indeed, threatening to push the button early in a conflict is the basis of their deterrent plan. During the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had conventional superiority in Europe, the United States and its NATO allies intended to escalate to nuclear war if the Red Army launched an invasion. Similarly, today, Pakistan explicitly threatens to retaliate with nuclear weapons if it is ever attacked -- even through a conventional invasion.
Viewed through a strategic -- and perhaps more cynical -- lens, the no-first-use doctrine also has a huge credibility problem. For the US pledge to truly matter, a president who otherwise favors a nuclear first strike would have to decide not to press the button because of this policy.
But in an extreme national crisis -- one involving, say, North Korean nuclear missiles -- a president is unlikely to feel bound by America's former assurance. After all, if a country is willing to use nuclear weapons, it's also willing to break a promise.
Champions and critics of no-first-use often cast it as a principled policy and a revolutionary step, for good or for ill. But the idealistic symbolism of no-first-use betrays an underlying reality.
Disavowing a first strike is a luxury afforded to the strong, and they play this card in the hope of strategic benefit.
If Obama made a dramatic announcement of no-first-use, it would probably have less impact than people think because other countries wouldn't follow suit, especially if they're weak. And, in any case, the promise may be meaningless because no one can predict a president's calculus when staring down a nuclear holocaust.
No-first-use is the policy of Goliath, not Gandhi.
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