The U.S. nuclear posture review is coming up, and Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, has an op-ed in USA Today arguing that we should abandon our current policy and adopt a "no first use" pledge. This is a foolish idea based on at least two false assumptions.
Harrison asserts that a right of first use is "is incompatible with the goal of non-proliferation." This is obvious nonsense. It's completely delusional to assume that countries like Iran and North Korea primarily want nuclear weapons out of fear of a U.S. nuclear first strike. There are many reasons countries might seek to acquire such weapons, and one of the main ones is that the possession of nuclear weapons is a strong deterrent to conventional attack. Rogue states fearing attack or invasion, and facing the overwhelming conventional power of the United States, have a clear reason to want nuclear weapons. Their reasons have little or nothing to do with whether or not the U.S. retains the option to strike first with nuclear weapons.
The article also appears to rest on a fundamentally mistaken underlying assumption that is common on the left when considering weapons of any kind -- the idea that the weapons themselves are the problem. In my view, the whole notion of nuclear proliferation as an evil that must be fought, is misguided. The problem isn't the weapons, it's the states which possess them. Should we be worried about nuclear weapons in the hands of Britain, France, or other allies of the U.S.? What if Switzerland decided to build nuclear weapons? Would that be in any way similar to the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian mullahs? Pretending that nuclear proliferation in general is the problem, instead of rogue state possession of nuclear weapons, is a common error in perspective.
U.S. nuclear weapons, just like other weapons in our arsenal, should be employed in accordance with U.S. interests. It is possible that a situation might arise where we might need to strike first with nuclear weapons. We can't foresee the future. Constricting U.S. strategic options by making some sort of pledge is both stupid and dangerous -- especially since the supposed benefits of such a pledge are based on false assumptions and delusions.
reaffirming the right of first use would say, in effect, that the United States has no apologies for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is ready for a repeat performance whenever and wherever it chooses.That's exactly what we should say.