FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

North Korea, Following China and India, Pledges No-First-Use of Nuclear Weapons–So Could Obama

North Korea’s May 7 declaration that it would not be first to use nuclear weapons was met with official derision instead of relief and applause. Not one report of the announcement I could find noted that the United States has never made such a no-first-use pledge. None of three dozen news accounts even mentioned that North Korea hasn’t got one usable nuclear warhead. The New York Times did admit, “US and South Korean officials doubted that North Korea has developed a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile that would deliver a nuclear payload to the continental United States.”

Nuclear “first use” means either a nuclear sneak attack or the escalation from conventional mass destruction to the use of nuclear warheads, and presidents have threatened it as many as 15 times. In the build-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf bombing, US officials including then Def. Sec. Dick Cheney and Sec. of State James Baker publicly and repeatedly hinted that the US might use nuclear weapons. In the midst of the bombardment, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas both explicitly promoted nuclear war on Iraq.

In April 1996, President Bill Clinton’s deputy Defense Secretary Herald Smith publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear Libya — which was a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — for allegedly building a secret weapons plant. When Clinton’s Defense Secretary William J. Perry was questioned about this threat he repeated it, saying, “[W]e would not forswear that possibility.” (The Nonproliferation Treaty forbids a nuclear attack on other state parties.)

In “Presidential Policy Directive 60” (PD 60) of Nov. 1997, Clinton made public the nuclear first use intentions of his war planners. US H-bombs were now being aimed at nations identified by the State Department to be “rogues.” PD 60 alarmingly lowered the threshold against nuclear attack possibilities. The Clinton doctrine “would allow the US to launch nuclear weapons in response to the use of chemical or biological weapons,” the Los Angeles and New York Times reported. (Arguing that we need H-bombs to deter chemical attacks is like saying we need nuclear reactors to boil water.) Throwing deterrence policy under the bus, Clinton then “ordered that the military … reserve the right to use nuclear arms first, even before the detonation of an enemy warhead.”

Clinton’s order was an imperious rebuke to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) — the nation’s highest scientific advisory group — which recommended six months earlier, on June 18, 1997, that the US, “declare that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in war or crisis.” In April 1998, Clinton’s US Embassy reps in Moscow coldly refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Iraq, saying, “…we do not rule out in advance any capability available to us.”

Again, in January and February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer declined to explicitly exclude nuclear weapons as an option in a war on Iraq, saying US policy was not to rule anything out, Wade Boese of the Arms Control Association reported. Additionally, Def. Sec. Donald Rumsfeld said at a Feb. 13 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that official policy dictated that the US, “…not foreclose the possible use of nuclear weapons if attacked.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 9.15.13 AM

Putting an end to these ultimate bomb scares would bring US action in line with Presidential speechifying which has regularly denounced “nuclear terrorism.” An international agreement on “non-nuclear immunity,” adopted by five nuclear-armed states May 11, 1995, has not quelled charges of hypocrisy made against them. The pact is full of exceptions – e.g., PD 60 — and is nonbinding. Only China has made this unequivocal pledge: “At no time and under no circumstances will China be the first to use nuclear weapons and [China] undertakes unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries and nuclear-free zones.” India has made a similar no-first-use promise.

A formal US renunciation of first use would let cooler heads prevail by ending the debate over so-called “threshold” use of the Bomb. It would also end the blatant public duplicity of proclaiming that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence while preparing for attacks “before the detonation of an enemy warhead.”

Pledging “no first use” would save billions of dollars in research, development and production, as well as the cost of maintaining first-strike systems: B61 H-bombs, Trident submarine warheads, Cruise and land-based missile warheads.

Significantly, nuclear war planners who have used their first-strike “master card” believe they were successful — the way a robber can get a bag of cash using a loaded gun but without pulling the trigger. They want to keep their ghastly “ace” up their sleeve, and they have manufactured a heavy stigma against formally renouncing nuclear first use, since to do so might further call into question the official “winning” reasons for having tested radiation bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The US should embrace China’s unambiguous language and promise never to use nuclear weapons first or against non-nuclear states. If President Obama wants to ease world tensions without apologizing for Hiroshima when he visits the iconic city, he could replace Clinton’s presidential directive with his own, declaring that the US will never again be the first to go nuclear.

More articles by:

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 22, 2019
George Ochenski
Breaking the Web of Life
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Helter Skelter
Enrique C. Ochoa – Gilda L. Ochoa
It’s About Time for Ethnic Studies in Our K-12 Schools
Steve Early
A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Clark T. Scott
Sanders And Bezos’s Shared, Debilitating, Basic Premise
Dan Corjescu
The Metaphysics of Revolution
Mark Weisbrot
Who is to Blame for Argentina’s Economic Crisis?
Howard Lisnoff
To Protect and Serve
Cesar Chelala
A Palestinian/Israeli Experiment for Peace in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
No Deal Chaos: the Brexit Cliff Face and Operation Yellowhammer
Josue De Luna Navarro
For True Climate Justice, Abolish ICE and CBP
Dean Baker
The NYT’s Upside Down Economics on Germany and the Euro Zone
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail