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Security Foreign policy

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

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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.”