Nuclear Debate: Need for a More Defensible Doctrine

The debate surrounding U.S. nuclear policy focuses too narrowly on reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the American arsenal, not on preventing the use of nuclear weapons in whatever numbers they exist.

Earth_with_Blue_People_SmallThe following excerpt is from a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Do Unto Others: Toward a Defensible Nuclear Doctrine.

The debate surrounding U.S. nuclear policy focuses too narrowly on reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the American arsenal toward zero. More important is preventing the use of nuclear weapons in whatever numbers they exist. President Barack Obama should articulate a narrowed framework for the legitimate use of nuclear weapons that the United States believes would be defensible for others to follow as long as nuclear weapons remain.

A More Defensible Nuclear Doctrine
Threat assessment: The first use of nuclear weapons is unnecessary or irrelevant to defeat threats to the territory of the United States today. However, some U.S. allies face potential threats that they rely on the United States to deter, including via possible first use of nuclear weapons. The United States and other states tend to exaggerate the threats that justify their reliance on first-use nuclear deterrence, but all nuclear-armed states can do more to clarify that they will not seek or employ capabilities that could cause others legitimately to use nuclear weapons in self-defense.

The proposed policy in a nutshell: The United States should declare that it possesses nuclear weapons only to respond to, and thereby deter or defeat, threats to its survival or that of its allies, particularly stemming from any use of nuclear weapons.

Differences from existing policy: This policy would raise the threshold of nuclear use to “threats to survival” instead of “extreme circumstances.” The first use of nuclear weapons would be allowed only in response to existential threats to the United States or its allies, eschewing attempts to conduct disarming first strikes against Russia or China. The policy would be more consistent with U.S. interests in strategic stability and more consonant with just war doctrine and international law.

Click here to read the complete report.

Source: George Perkovich | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | 2013