The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made. If you are religious, then remember that this bomb is Man's challenge to God. It is worded quite simply: We have the power to destroy everything that You have created. If you're not religious, then look at it this way. This world of ours is four billion, six hundred million years old. It could end in an afternoon.
- Bidwai and Vaniak “New Nukes”

We in the United States have lived in the shadow of nuclear peril for the half a centaury, a peril unlike any other seen in the history of the human race. The theory of mutually assured destruction has been a gamble that we have placed our faith in for the last 50 years. Despite the successes of this deterrence theory, the price, if this theory fails, is too high to contemplate . A full-scale nuclear war would kill hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people and cause environmental destruction not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago; a full scale nuclear war would in essence be an extinction level event. The US policy of First Use continues to risk the possibility of nuclear holocaust either through miscalculation, accident, or through a commitment trap of escalation during conflict. The US doctrine of First Use has also made US non-proliferation efforts seem hypocritical, and continues to jeopardize US leadership and standing.

Any nuclear strike would take an enormous human toll. Millions might die in the blast; even more later because of cancers and other problems associated with the fallout. The human toll does not end with those at the site of blast, or even those who are alive when the bomb goes off. The children of those exposed to the radiation associated with a nuclear bomb often suffer from genetic defects and deformities. A nuclear attack, must be considered immoral in all but the most compelling circumstances .


In the early 1990’s the world watched one of the most unexpected developments of this century, the implosion of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin wall. Despite this decade old development, the United States (US) keeps a nuclear first use doctrine built on Cold war realities < Ambassador Peggy Mason>. The current nuclear doctrine labels nuclear weapons as “weapons of last resort.” While this may sound reassuring, the doctrine is riddled with loopholes and “calculated ambiguities” in its wording, allowing the US to launch nuclear strikes in response to aggression or even preemptively .

The US’s First Use doctrine was designed during the deepest, darkest days of the cold war. At that time Soviet forces out-numbered and out-gunned allied forces in Europe significantly. In fact, it seemed that the USSR would have an almost unblocked path to the Atlantic should they choose to invade. To prevent this, the US and NATO created a doctrine that would allow them to use nuclear weapons to stop an invasion of Europe. However, now that the military juggernaut that was the Soviet war machine has been permanently hulled and sunk, there is no strategic rationale for this doctrine. US/NATO power is unrivaled throughout the world and there is little risk of high intensity conflict that would threaten the NATO nations . Nevertheless, the US continues to apply yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s problems.


Many countries view the US first use policy as extremely threatening. They feel that by its unwillingness to conclude definitively on the issue of nuclear use, the US is leaving a large hole for it to justify strikes. Other countries also believe that our reluctance to accept such a policy is an indication of how central nuclear weapons are to our defense planning. The best example of this distrust is the People’s Republic of China. The US’s unwillingness to support No First Use is one of their main fears regarding national missile defense. They believe that such a policy would in fact leave us in a position to actually carry out a first strike because of the protection NMD would afford us from a counter-strike. It is therefore completely unacceptable for us to even try to develop defenses while refusing to pledge No First Use .

Moreover, this fear of US policy is one of the main things driving their military modernization and the highly unstable Asian arms race. China has also been one of the main advocates of No First Use (NFU). They have entered into a bilateral no-first-use treaty with Russia and in 1994 proposed a worldwide NFU treaty that met with little success .

Russia is also a proponent of a No-First-Use pledge. Russia even had a unilateral NFU pledge for many years. However, this policy was later revoked in the 90’s, partly because of NATO’s eastward spread, and partly because of the United States’ refusal to declare NFU < Mendelsohn>. Other countries highly involved in the NFU movement include India, Pakistan, and many non-nuclear states.

The US's continuing commitment to a doctrine justifying First Use of nuclear weapons, is one of Russia’s main objections to further eastward expansion of NATO . The leaders of the Russian Federation obviously feel very threatened by the prospect of having nations that could have US and NATO nuclear weapons in them, on its very borders . Many analysts think that if the US were to declare NFU and promise not to put nuclear weapons in new member states to NATO, Russia would end many of its objections.


The US policy mandating nuclear weapons of “last resort” has inadvertently weakened the non-proliferation regime. The continuance of a doctrine that reserves the right of First Use causes the perception that nuclear weapons are a valid military option and that they could be used in the course of an otherwise conventional conflict. Many countries' leaders also believe that if the US, with its unrivaled conventional superiority, needs nuclear weapons, why wouldn’t their country need nuclear weapons to prevent an attack by hostile nations . To the extent that nuclear threats are seen as what great powers do, nuclear weapons are the main objective of aspiring hegemons. Throughout their short history, nuclear weapons have begotten nuclear weapons. This perception ignores the extraordinary destructive power of nuclear weapons and the special moral consequences of their use .

A declaration of NFU would fundamentally lower the value of nuclear weapons in the eyes of non-nuclear states. After adopting NFU, it would be clear that the main purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack, not as part of a practical, comprehensive war fighting strategy . With this affirmation of nuclear weapon’s special nature, a more comprehensive non-proliferation regime can be started, one devoted not just to the prevention of new nuclear weapons states, but one actually interested in living up to the true spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, disarmament.


The doctrine of First Use substantially increases the chance of nuclear miscalculation. The First Use doctrine requires an elevated alert status for nuclear weapons, elaborate methods of command and control, a billion dollar surveillance system, and preparation for an order to launch at any time. Such a complex systems, despite its safety protocols, risks breaking down . These large, alerted arsenals needlessly increase the risk of a devastating nuclear accident. A nuclear First Use doctrine may also increase Russian tensions, and cause them to err on the side of nuclear retaliation to command and control breaks, such as the one seen in ‘94 when a weather rocket was mistaken for a nuclear missile. This incident in ‘94 was the first time a Russian President had ever activated the nuclear briefcase.


Part of the problem with a doctrine reserving nuclear weapons as “weapons of last resort” is its fundamental ambiguity. While attempting to interpret this doctrine, several mid and lower level bureaucrats, and even is some cases high level ones, have made gaffs and slips of the tongue, and in several cases directly contradicted each other . Will the US respond to a biological or chemical attack with nuclear weapons? The official answer is one of “strategic ambiguity,” a schoolyard game of chicken that says “try it and find out.”

A recent example of this was seen in the aftermath of the attack on September 11, 2001; several news agencies reported that the US was considering and the Defense Department even recommended a tactical nuclear strike. Only later did the Bush administration clarify that nuclear retaliation was not on the table. Unfortunately, many of the bureaucratic gaffs are taken as statements of official US policy, leading to misinterpretation among our friends and allies, and sometimes, most dangerously, our enemies. In times of extreme crisis, this could lead to a catastrophic situation. Misstatements and misinterpretation of an ambiguous doctrine could literally back the US into a corner, known as "the commitment trap," where the US is forced to use nuclear weapons in a situation where the national command authorities may not want to . A definitive No-First-Use doctrine, however, would end the ambiguity. A NFU doctrine would outline explicitly under what situations the US would use nuclear weapons.


Taken as part of a broader paradigm of nuclear threat reduction, a policy of No First Use would help continue steps for Russian and US arms reduction. The doctrine of First Use along with the high alert level of ICBMs is the most visible military reminder of the cold war. It is such a visible reminder that it, in fact, may help to foster a renewed cold war attitude. The traditional justification for First Use of nuclear weapons was to stave off Russian/Soviet conventional invasion. The continued presence of these forces and doctrines is seen by Russia, quite understandably, as a threat to its very survival. To this old cold war threat, Russia responds in the stereotypical cold war fashion, its own missiles on high alert and the renunciation of its old NFU policy. If a policy of No-First-Use were adopted, it would act as a significant confidence-building measure to reassure the Russians of the United States’ good intent. From this starting point, a new strategic framework could begin to evolve. This new doctrine would allow Russia and the US to build a new strategic relationship, one much less costly and dangerous than the ‘mutually assured destruction’ of the old one.


A NFU pledge is a key part of the US’s retaining global leadership especially on non-proliferation efforts. For over 50 years, the US has had a policy on proliferation affairs that is a contradiction in terms; the US kept the right to have and even use nuclear weapons. but other nations were not to be allowed this power. These policies have weakened the US ability to lead non-proliferation efforts, especially in nuclear flashpoints such as the one between India and Pakistan . Our First Use policy has also caused disagreement among our NATO allies. In fact, prior to the NATO Summit held in Washington to celebrate the Alliance's 50th anniversary, Germany and Canada had pressed for a discussion of the organization’s policy of First Use of nuclear weapons . While the US managed to road block any serious discussion into NFU, it is clear there is some wish among our allies that we would adopt just such a pledge.


On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made an advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. While there may be room for debate over some aspects of the ruling, it is manifestly clear that the majority of the Court did not believe that current international law would sanction all uses--or threats of use--of nuclear weapons . The Court quite clearly tilts in the opposite direction and states that the threat or use of nuclear weapons might conceivably be legal in one possible circumstance only--where the "very survival of a State would be at stake." In a nutshell, then, current NATO nuclear policy is seriously at odds with the majority opinion in the ICJ ruling, which, while not binding, is considered an "authoritative" statement of international law.

A First Use policy is, furthermore, against our obligation as a Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation (NPT). The NPT is clear on the fact that NWS parties must make swift efforts to disarm and lower the risk of nuclear war; this was the exchange for ending non-nuclear weapons states proliferation. The US is also the only country that has threatened non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) with a nuclear attack, a move in direct violation of the NPT. Little effort has been made to fulfill those obligations and an NFU would be one of the best ways to end NNWS states’ concern over our sincerity when we made that pledge .


A pledge of No First Use would help to bring about a goal of disarmament. Currently, all nuclear powers have pledged to work toward a goal of nuclear disarmament, either in the non-proliferation treaty or in separate statements. If all nuclear states were to agree that the only point for having nuclear weapons was deterrence to other countries with nuclear weapons as a NFU treaty would do, disarmament would become feasible. A No First Use pledge would act as the measure from which to build the trust to disarm.


It is also most certain that no President would ever order a nuclear first strike. Robert S. McNamara, Former Secretary of Defense, explains, “In the early 1960s, I had reached conclusions… In the long private conversations, first with President Kennedy and then with President Johnson, I had recommended, without qualification, that they never initiate, under any circumstances, the use of nuclear weapons. I believe they accepted my recommendations… I do not believe that after 1960, by which time the Soviets had acquired a survivable retaliatory force, any one of our presidents - Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush or Clinton-would ever have done what would have been tantamount to committing suicide. To initiate use against a non-nuclear opponent would have been militarily unnecessary, politically indefensible, and morally repugnant.”

A policy of No First Use is a commitment to the future of mankind. Our current policy is based on the flawed assumptions of a bygone era. Our policy has carried many of the fears and suspicions of the cold war era into the new world order. Reserving the right to First Use, in fact, decreases the security it was designed to promote. The current doctrine is seen worldwide as a legitimizing of nuclear weapons and an affirmation of their role in military conflicts. A No First Use policy is key to breaking the altar of this false deity that promises nothing short of annihilation. With an NFU policy we can turn away from the dark days of the cold war world to a bright future, a future hopefully free of the nuclear menace in whose shadow we have spent the last half-century.


Bashkar, Deputy Director of IDSA, 2001 (C. Uday, "Nuclear Weapons and No First Use: Need for Strategic Restraint, available at:, January 9th, 2001)

Bidwai and Vaniak, research assistance, '00 (Praful and Achin, research assistants at the Transnational Institute in New Delhi, New Nukes, 2000)

Graham and Rindskopf, President of LAWS, and Vice President of LAWS 1999 (Thomas Jr. and Elizabeth R., Former US special representative for the extension of Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, Former General counsel of the CIA and counsel to Bryan Cave LLP,, Thursday, January 28, 1999)

Huaqui, No First use and China's Security, 2001

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Kreiger, President Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 2000 (David, Nuclear Age Peace Department "The most important moral issue of our time". Feb 2000


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Mendelsohn, former deputy director of the Arms control Association, 1999 (jack, Additional vice president and executive director of LAWS, Arms control Today, July/August 1999)

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