In line with his remarks in Prague, 2009,President Barack Obama has this week articulated his objectiveto instantiate a ‘no first use’ strategy within US nuclear doctrine and commits the US tothe “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. Like the positionsof India and China, a no first use would pledge the UStonot use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons.An ambition thatthe President has held since his college days, the shift hopes to promotea more constructiveagenda innuclear weapons proliferation discourse in which the threat of nuclear warfare or attackmight beabolished once and for all.
But despite this lofty ideal there have been many voices expressing opposition and raising concern with the ramifications for global stabilityand confidence for the future ofUS-led security policies.Among these are the USDepartment of State’s chiefliaison to the U.S. House of Representatives Joel Rubinand core members of the Security Council and broader US security alliance in France, theUnited Kingdom, South Korea and Japan.
Though there are many potential avenues of discontent, the arguments of foremostconcernare those that pertainto the perpetuation of a stable security community, strategicdeterrence, and arms reduction in the face of shifting dynamics for nuclear proliferation.It will thus do to dispel the ambiguities of a policy of no first use and to further confirm the methodology therein intended to promote a progressive march towards the eradicationof nuclear weapons.
Firstly, it is important to recallthat in the entire span since the United States acquired nuclear weapons, outside the two instances in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it has not seen fit to use them.In fact most of the instances in which anymilitary has comeclose to detonating a nuclear warhead have been eitheras a result of misinformation such as occurred in theNorwegian rocket incident, or by wayaccident as in the1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash. It is any wonder therefore that many observers, particularly in the academic community, have recognised the seeming irrelevance of conventional nuclear weapons in military conflict.
For all their deficiencies thelogic of deterrence inherent in the destructive potential of these weapons has, fortunately, perpetuatedanuneasy peace, acting as the critical impediment to mutually assured destruction. It ought to be observed therefore that a no first use policy poses no threat to this framework, invested as it is in the integrity of our collective security. Far froma subversion of the principles ofdeterrence, no first use seeks a defensive posture in nuclear doctrine,toreinforcethe protectionsaffordedin the logic of contemporary security methodology.
As further evidence of this point the policy does not itself reduce the quantityof nuclear weapons in any nation’s arsenal. Rather, the program works in concert with reciprocal international cooperationto promote a framework whereby the threat of nuclear warfare can bediminished. Aiming to avoid the obliteration of human civilisation,articulatingthe explicitly defensive intentions of nuclear capable states in an all encompassing agreementis not possible without one first step in that direction.
Though the US may have the best of intentions, no progress will ever be made without the cooperation of all nuclearactors.Without suchcooperation the fundamental sanctity of a global security program based on mutually assured destruction would be undermined, thus jeopardising any and all efforts towards peace. Obama’s advocatingof no first usearethus a demonstration ofthat preliminaryinitiativeand should be regarded, not as a surrendering of US security, but as a reinvigoration of the non-proliferation rhetoric that has prevented numerouscatastrophes.
Though the pervasiveness of dystopianmanifestations inhistory paints a bleak picture of humanity, the international community ought to be proud of the restraint it exhibited in avoiding the devastation of our civilisation. More to the point, this restraint now represents a hallmark achievement in human cooperationand marks a precedent of international affairs thatshould be recognised as the foundation for perpetualpeace. To reach the very precipice of calamity, acknowledge our autonomy and turn away is the greatest expression of humanity the world has ever witnessed. We must therefore embrace our best intentions and, through those same mechanisms that afforded us their protection before, forge the principles that would ensure we might never approach such a moment in timeagain.