Sunday, July 31, 2016

No First Use: Don’t Do It, Mr. President!

Bob Butteworth, "No First Use: Don’t Do It, Mr. President!"
Image from article, with caption: Obama speaks at Prague

Don’t do it, Mr. President. Don’t promise that the US will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. And don’t give credence to that “hair trigger” fol-de-rol. De-alerting and no-first-use might appear to be good stabilizing measures, but in practice they seem sure to reduce security, undercut stability, and encourage Russia, China, and, eventually, the US to build larger nuclear arsenals.
A few weeks ago a White House official announced that the president was considering taking action soon on additional ways to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US defense planning. Then recently the Washington Post reported that two “golden oldies” were being considered: taking strategic nuclear missiles off “hair trigger” alert, and announcing a “no first use” policy. ...
A “no first use” policy was first announced by President Kennedy on 28 March 1961 in a special message to Congress on the defense budget. Though not using the “NFU” formulation, he said that, “Our arms will never be used to strike the first blow in any attack;” and again that “we will not strike first in any conflict,” and again that, “As a power which will never strike first, our hopes for anything close to an absolute deterrent must rest on weapons which come from hidden, moving, or invulnerable bases which will not be wiped out by a surprise attack.”
In subsequent statements, Kennedy dropped such references, perhaps having thought better of the worries, perceptions, uncertainties, unknowns, expectations, and judgments involved in decisions about war as the US and USSR moved into the missile age. It was a Soviet leader, Brezhnev, in 1982, who next promised no-first-use, but no one took him seriously; perhaps he was trying “public diplomacy” to inhibit President Reagan’s defense program. Russian President Yeltsin officially dropped the policy in November 1993. ..
[D]on’t change the ready launch posture, and don’t adopt a “no first use” policy. The recent emphasis on a “Prague legacy” might only be a departing dog whistle for anti-nuclear activists. But the likely practical effects of these two proposed measures would be contrary to what those activists want to see.

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