Opinions on Debatable Issues #14
No-first-use (NFU) policy states that the US has to reserve nuclear weapons strictly to retaliate in the aftermath of a nuclear attack against its territory or military personnel. Currently, the US has the option of initiating a nuclear attack on other nations without a premise. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, under the administration of President Donald J. Trump, retains the option of nuclear first use. Among the eight nuclear nations, China is the only one that pledges to unconditional NFU.
The criticizers of NFU think that the first use of nuclear weapons is a powerful deterrent against non-nuclear threats, including conventional, chemical, and biological attacks, as well as cyberattacks. However, this is untrue. US’s conventional weapons are powerful enough to deter others. According to Defense Industry Daily, in 2018, the US Navy already had 4,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles while the Navy and Air Force received 5,000 JASSM conventional cruise missiles, which are barely visible to radar and are designed to destroy troublesome targets such as nuclear missile silos. “Russia and China, by contrast, had nothing of equivalent quantity or quality with which to threaten the US mainland.” Also, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “China’s navy was still only numerically equivalent to the combined fleets of Japan and Taiwan, while the US boasts 19 aircraft carriers worldwide if its marine assault ships are included.” Therefore, when facing non-nuclear threats from other nations, the US can safeguard its national security without a nuclear weapon, making the option of initiating nuclear war unnecessary.
Furthermore, allowing the first use of a nuclear weapon does not deter a nuclear war, but encourages one. Even the status quo is intended to work as a deterrence instead of initiating a nuclear attack, the current policy states that the United States can use nuclear weapons first against Russia, China, or North Korea, which can effectively begin a nuclear war.
The current North Korea nuclear threat shows us that. Trying to persuade North Korea to denuclearize, at a NATO leaders’ meeting in London, President Donald Trump said “we are more powerful, militarily, than we ever have been… hopefully, we don’t have to use it, but if we do, we’ll use it”, referring to potentially using a nuclear weapon to force North Korea into completing denuclearization. Since then, North Korea has continued to violate the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which says that “South and North Korea shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons. This shows that the current policy of allowing the first use of nuclear weapons is not an effective deterrence to countries that already possess a certain degree of nuclear capability that worries the US.
In April 2019, Kim Jong Wong told his Supreme People’s assembly that, “the United States will not be able to move us one iota nor get what it wants at all, even if it sits with us a hundred times, a thousand times.” On July 10, 2020, Kim Yo Jong, head of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea said denuclearization “is not possible at this point” and “can be realized only when there are major changes made on the other side”, indicating no compromise. Without North Korea backing up on the nuclear issue, the US is likely to lose its patience and be compelled to use extreme methods, such as nuclear attack to suppress North Korea if North Korea has the signs of successfully developing nuclear weapons. That means nuclear war is not only possible but imminent. Without the NFU, the possibility of the advent of nuclear WWIII cannot be ruled out.
Some argue that fearing the US will use nuclear weapons, other nations will be willing to negotiate with the US to prevent a nuclear war. This is unlikely because, as shown in North Korea’s refusal to denuclearize, countries are usually reluctant to give up on developing nuclear weapons because of its devastating power and deterrence on other nations.
One reason that people believe the status quo can prevent the worse scenario is that they think the US should always eliminate any possibility of China or Russia initiating a nuclear attack on the US by being able to attack first. However, this concern is not legit for the following reasons: First, neither China nor Russia can bear the economic loss and other disruptions on the current close trading and diplomatic relationships between the US and them if a nuclear war started. Not only that but none of the nations can also handle the chaos and unpredictable outcome of a nuclear war. Second, the US can detect nuclear attacks from Russia and China to react promptly using a killer vehicle to destroy the warhead before its advent. Three, logically speaking, none of the nuclear nations will try to do such an inhumane act as wiping out an entire country (killing millions of people) when the US does not attack first or show hostility. Therefore, it is almost impossible for other nations to attach the US first using nuclear weapons, rendering the first-use option unnecessary.
Lastly, NFU is a very effective tool to limit presidential power that can cause impulsive initiation of nuclear war. In the United States, the President is granted sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. “He or she doesn’t need to consult with anyone beforehand and can issue a launch order with very few checks and balances,” making it likely and dangerous.
It is agreed upon that the US wants to prevent nuclear war or any destruction among its people. If the first use is still an option, then there is always the potential for the US to start a nuclear war when others do not pose a nuclear threat. Also, if the US launched its first nuclear weapon, other seven nuclear nations will undoubtedly retaliate with nuclear weapons, causing unimaginable casualties.
In conclusion, U.S. superiority in conventional weapons to deter significant threats and the low possibility for others to initiate nuclear attacks against the US first makes the first use policy useless. Also, the status quo increases the possibility of a nuclear war, making the establishment of NFU urgent and necessary.
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