The CSS Blog Network

Taking First-Use of Nukes off the Table: Good for the United States and the World

1014px-Peacekeeper-missile-testing

Courtesy David James Paquin/wikimedia

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 14 July 2016.

The United States first used nuclear weapons more than 70 years ago on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fearing the threat from massive Soviet conventional forces and possible large-scale use of chemical and biological weapons, U.S. military and political leaders decided to keep the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Today, the United States in the world’s dominant global military power and the Soviet Union is long gone. The Cold War-era policy of not ruling out nuclear first-use poses a grave risk to the security of the United States and is not suitable for today’s global security and political environment.

The greatest threat to the United States and to any nation is from the enormous and indiscriminate destructive effects of nuclear weapons. It is in the interest of the United States that, as long as these weapons exist, all nuclear-armed states agree that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to respond to a nuclear attack by other nuclear-armed states and only when the survival of the state or one of its allies is at stake. It is time for the United States to adopt this policy.

In April 2009, President Barack Obama made clear that he sought “to put an end to Cold War thinking” and pledged to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

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China’s Fishing Militia Is a Military Force in All But Name: It’s Time to Unmask Beijing’s Third Navy

Painting of a dead fish

Courtesy of Frédéric Glorieux/flickr

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 9 July 2016.

As the South China Sea heats up, one of Beijing’s most important tools — its Maritime Militia or “Little Blue Men,” roughly equivalent at sea to Putin’s “Little Green Men” on land — offers it major rewards while threatening the United States and other potential opponents with major risks.

When the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague announces its rulings on the Philippines-initiated maritime legal case with China on July 12 — likely rejecting some key bases for excessive Chinese claims in the South China Sea — the Maritime Militia will offer a tempting tool for Beijing to try to teach Manila (and other neighbors) a lesson while frustrating American ability to calm troubled waters.

This major problem with significant strategic implications is crying out for greater attention, and effective response. Accordingly, this article puts China’s Maritime Militia under the spotlight to explain what it is, why it matters and what to do about it.

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Offshore Balancing, US Retreat and Strategic Disorder

Waiting to board

The sun sets behind a C-17 Globemaster III as Soldiers wait to board the aircraft. Courtesy the US Army/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s The Strategist on 28 June 2016.

John Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s recent Foreign Affairs article advocating a return to offshore balancing is certainly generating a debate amongst the doyens of US foreign policy. Tom Switzer, for example, clearly likes their arguments. Dan Drezner doesn’t. So perhaps I ought to begin by outlining my own position. I accept the starting point for the Mearsheimer/Walt argument: the strategic mainstream is starting to fracture as America reprioritises its domestic agenda. But I don’t accept that offshore balancing—a strategy under which the US stays ‘offshore’ from Eurasia for as long as possible and, even when it comes onshore, makes its allies carry as much of the weight as possible—would lead to favourable outcomes for either the world or America.

Despite the Mearsheimer/Walt argument that ‘by husbanding US strength, an offshore-balancing strategy would preserve US primacy well into the future’, I don’t see how international observers would perceive offshore balancing as anything other than US retreat. And those perceptions would, in turn, fundamentally weaken the credibility of US security assurances to allies and partners. Critics would paint it as the waning of the Pax Americana, and not entirely without reason.

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Long Nuclear Shadow Could Revive Calls for Abolition

Graffiti displaying nuclear symbol.

Radioactive Graffiti, courtesy Tristan Schmurr / flickr

This article was originally published by the YaleGlobal Online on 21 June 2016.

Led by Russia and the United States, the world reduced the nuclear stockpile from 60,000 weapons to about 16,000 held by nine nations. The total still poses a grave global threat. Any nuclear attack or accident would kill many, devastating an entire region, which in turn would revive demands for abolition, explains Bennett Ramberg, author and a former policy analyst in the US Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs during the George H.W. administration. No country has used the bomb since World War II, he explains, and “A presumption emerged that a nuclear-use taboo overwhelms any inclination toward nuclear use.” The potential for nuclear catastrophe runs high in an era of terrorism and chaos emerging out of failed states, but prevention is possible, too. Global agreement is required, notes Ramberg, and he points to the 1946 Baruch Plan as a foundation. The plan calls for an international authority to manage atomic energy and an end to manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Seventy years ago this month the United States placed on the global agenda a proposal that would have eliminated nuclear weapons for all time. Drawing on the US State Department’s Acheson-Lilienthal scientific advisory study, the Truman administration turned to the long-time confidant of presidents, Bernard Baruch, to craft a proposal for global action.

In June 1946, Baruch appeared before the newly constituted UN Atomic Energy Commission to present the nuclear abolition plan that would come to bear his name. He called for establishment of an International Atomic Development Authority that would retain “managerial control or ownership of all atomic energy potentially dangerous to world security,” eliminate weapons manufacturing and dispose of all existing bombs while asserting “power to control, inspect, license all other atomic activities” coupled with assured enforcement. Had Cold War politics not intervened – Stalin pressed his scientists to build a competitive Soviet bomb as rapidly as possible – the nuclear Damocles Sword that’s hung over the world ever since might have been avoided.

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The US and Nuclear Weapons: A Turning of the Tide?

Peacekeeper missile after silo launch, Vandenberg AFB, CA.

USAF/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The Strategist (ASPI) on 27 August, 2014.

Given the intensity of media focus on a series of crises this year—Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Ebola, and the South China Sea to name just a few—readers may be forgiven for having failed to notice that another important, though more incremental, development has also occurred. With each passing month it becomes clearer that a mood of nuclear realism is unfolding in US strategic policy. While President Obama is still remembered most clearly in the public mind for the anti-nuclear language in his Prague speech of 2009, a string of events in 2013–14 suggest that a shift of emphasis is occurring in relation to nuclear weapons. » More

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