By Kyle Durant:
Late last month, identical bills were introduced in both the House and Senate aimed at preventing the United States from using nuclear weapons for any reason other than retaliation to a nuclear attack. The bill seeks to establish the policy of the United States regarding the no-first-use of nuclear weapons. It was introduced to the Senate by 2020 Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and to the House of Representatives by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The text of the bill encompasses one single sentence: “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.”
In a joint statement Sen. Warren and Rep. Smith claimed, “Our current nuclear strategy is not just outdated — it is dangerous.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.”
Proponents of the bill echo Warren and Smith arguing this is the first step towards ensuring the longevity of the human race and preventing a chaotic spiral which could wipe out most of the global population. Those who disagree argue a no-first-use policy could be dangerous and that our nation’s defense options should be available at all times, they claim certain non nuclear aggression could warrant a nuclear strike.
The Trump administration agrees with opponents of a no-first-use policy. The Washington Post reported the president’s 2018 nuclear weapons policy claimed a no-first-use policy was not warranted. Instead nuclear weapons should only be used in extreme circumstances including, “significant nonnuclear strategic attacks“
Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), chairwoman of the Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, responded to the joint no-first-use bills with a tweet where she stated, “Presidents from both parties, including the Obama administration, have rejected a no-first-use policy because it erodes deterrence, undermines allied confidence in US security guarantees and risks emboldening potential adversaries,”
This policy is not the first of its kind to be pursued. The Washington Post reported President Barack Obama, in the last year of his presidency, considered a no-first-use policy but was advised against it by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, at which point he decided against further pursuit.
The introduction of these joint bills has brought conversation regarding nuclear weapons back into the public sphere. Whether a no-first-use policy would be beneficial or detrimental to the United States is still up for debate.