President Obama has called for a “nuclear-free world.” It is understandable that the president would aim for this goal. It is an ideal that much of humanity has long yearned for.
However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The idea of declaring a policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons during a crisis is gaining traction within the U.S. government, but couldn’t this result in unintended and undesirable consequences?
Ironically, the declaration under discussion will not contribute to the realization of the president’s nuclear-free goal. It will instead upset the current nuclear balance and could eventually threaten global peace.
Under discussion is the adoption of a policy whereby the U.S. will refrain from using nuclear weapons unless first attacked by adversaries using nuclear weapons.
It has been reported that allied countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella such as Japan, Germany, and South Korea, as well as the Obama administration’s key secretaries, are expressing concerns about the policy.
Nuclear weapons not only defend nations from enemies’ nuclear attacks but also play the essential role in deterring adversaries from large scale aggression with conventional weapons. Though it may not be ideal, this is the reality of the situation.
It is dangerous to hope for the policy just because it restricts the use of nuclear weapons. It can be said that the no first use policy illustrates insufficient understanding of the primary purpose of security policies – to protect people’s lives. That is why voices urging the president to change his mind are prevalent within the U.S. government.
In the midst of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – inferior to the Soviet Union in conventional forces – was not opposed to the first use of nuclear weapons. As a deterrent strategy, it served as an important factor for maintaining the peace. We must not forget this hard-learned lesson.
Weapons of mass destruction like biological and chemical weapons are banned in the international community. This is because retaliation by nuclear weapons is assured.
Regardless of whether we like it or not, the international community depends on nuclear deterrence for maintaining the peace. We should not forget that declaring a policy of no first use will undermine nuclear deterrence and lower the bar for hostile countries to wage wars of aggression or resort to biological and chemical weapons.
If countries view the “nuclear umbrella” as a torn umbrella, some may attempt to go nuclear, which would lead to nuclear proliferation. Or those countries may believe the commitment of the U.S. or allied countries to upholding world peace has weakend. If that encourages China or North Korea, it will pose a direct threat against Japan.
Wars increase the risk of using nuclear weapons the most. Japan, as the only country that was the victim of atomic bombing and as an allied nation of the U.S., should dissuade Washington from declaring the no first use policy.