1. All states owning or hosting nuclear weapons shall immediately de-alert them and commit to no-first-use

Rapporteur: Barbara Birkett

Where We Are: “Two Minutes to Midnight”! –see The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists1

According to the Federation of American Scientists2, the world has 14,485 nuclear weapons, about 9335 of them in military stockpiles, ready for use, the rest awaiting dismantlement. Some 93% are owned by the US and Russia, with each having about 4,000 warheads in their stockpiles. Many of these are thirty or fifty or more times as lethal as the weapons that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

About 3,750 are with operational forces; 1,940 US, Russian, British, and French warheads are on high alert.

No-First-Use (NFU) has been declared as a policy by China and India; in 1993 the latter country stated that it would respond massively to any size of nuclear attack and changed the wording to “no first use against non-nuclear armed weapons states” in 2010.

France, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the USA say they will use nuclear weapons against nuclear or non-nuclear states only in the case of invasion or other attack against their territories or against one of their allies. In 2017 the UK stated it would use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike “in the most extreme circumstances.”

Pakistan, although it has a no-first-attack policy, refuses to have a NFU doctrine. The USA does not have a NFU policy, although attempts have been made to require congressional approval for a pre-emptive strike or to adopt a NFU rule. NATO has refused to adopt a no-first-use policy. Israel has not stated its stance. North Korea has stated different policies at various times.3

The Problems

Major concerns are the rising tensions between the US and Russia, nuclear developments in North Korea, climate change, other international conflicts, and possible cyber attacks leading to release or loss of control of nuclear weapons. Current US threats of withdrawal from the INF treaty (and previous leaving of the ABM treaty) with subsequent loss of contact and verification abilities, may further risk accidental, mistaken, or deliberate launches.

Given that US and Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) can reach the other’s countries within about 30 minutes, a US President or Russian leader might have only about 12 minutes to decide whether to order an attack or response to an attack. Is it a comfort that any single human being should have to make such decision, and so quickly? Or should such a decision ever be made at all?

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Notes

  1. The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock, 2019.  (back)
  2. Federation of American Scientists, Status of World Nuclear Forces  (back)
  3. Wikipedia, “No first use.”  (back)
  4. Ira Helfand, Nuclear Famine “2 Billion People at risk,” 2013.  (back)
  5. Eric Schlosser, Command and Control. Penguin, 2013  (back)
  6. Alan Phillips, Steven Starr: “Change Launch on Warning Policy,” Peace Magazine, Vol.22 No.3 (Jul/Sep 2006). It is suggested also that a consequence might be progress towards abolition, given an improved relationship between nuclear armed powers.
    A deterrence-only policy option is to proceed with fewer stockpiled nuclear weapons and an end of the current modernization plans. It would rely mainly on submarine-based missiles, would not require a time-sensitive retaliatory nuclear attack, and could be supplemented by conventional and cyber forces. It would be decoupled from the idea of immediately destroying the enemy’s nuclear forces. It would be less expensive and allow funding of other endeavours. It would require much up-grading of Command, Control, and Communication networks. It still retains the deterrence doctrine, but not, according to its proponents, deterrence + war-fighting.  (back)
  7. Reframing the Nuclear De-Alerting Debate: Toward Maximizing Presidential Decision Time,” Nuclear Threat Initiative.  (back)
  8. “De-Alerting Nuclear Forces,” Kristenssen, McKinzie, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org  (back)
  9. Defence360, Bad Idea: De-Alert U.S. ICBMs, 2017  (back)
  10. A Simple Method for Taking US Land-Based Nuclear Missiles Off High Alert,” ucsusa.org/safing, 2015  (back)
  11. Paul Meyer, “Folding the Nuclear Umbrella: Nuclear Allies, the NPT and the Ban Treaty,” APLN-Toda, Policy Brief No.58, Feb 2018.  (back)
  12. Darryl Kimball, Arms Control Association “The Case for a US No-First-Use Policy,” armscontrol.org  (back)
  13. Back from the Brink: The Call to Prevent Nuclear War, preventnuclearwar.org  (back)
  14. Ira Helfand, “Sheer Luck has helped us avoid nuclear war so far-now we need to take some action”, 2018  (back)
  15. Ernie Regehr, NATO and Nuclear Disarmament-1: NATO’s nuclear posture, The Simons Foundation  (back)

Author: Barbara Birkett

3 thoughts on “1. All states owning or hosting nuclear weapons shall immediately de-alert them and commit to no-first-use

  1. Yes! The House of Commons wants this government to ”to take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons.” Why isn’t it happening? (And isn’t it a nice room? Not always so nice during Question period when the members get rowdy, but pretty while they are absent.)

  2. Yes! The House of Commons wants this government to ”to take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons.” Why isn’t it happening? (And isn’t it a nice room? Not always so nice during Question period when the members get rowdy, but pretty while they are absent.)

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