No First Use
by David Krieger and Carah Ong, April 2002
In March 2002, major US media reported that the
new and still classified US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) indicated
contingency plans for using nuclear weapons against seven states:
Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Russia and China. This
indication of US planning to use nuclear weapons is contrary to
international law as well as to long-standing US assurances not
to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states. It
also constitutes a disturbing threat to the named states and others
as well as to international peace and security overall.
The provocative US approach to planning nuclear
weapons use will affect the approach taken to non-proliferation
by all countries, promoting nuclear proliferation and further
eroding the non-proliferation regime. US policy toward nuclear
weapons use, combined with its plans to develop and deploy missile
defenses, will encourage the expansion of nuclear weapons programs
by Russia and China as well as the development of nuclear weapons
by other countries. This could also lead to destructive new nuclear
The fact that the US is developing contingency
plans to use nuclear weapons is viewed by most of the world as
a dangerous expression of bad faith. In the past, nuclear weapons
have been viewed as a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons
by other states. The US Nuclear Posture Review reveals that nuclear
weapons are apparently being integrated into a full spectrum of
war fighting capabilities. US policy makes nuclear weapons no
longer weapons of last resort, but rather instruments that may
be used in fighting wars, even against non-nuclear weapons states.
Following the US lead, the UK also announced that it is prepared
to use nuclear weapons against any state that may attack it with
a weapon of mass destruction.
Among the nuclear weapons states, China has had
the best policy on first use of nuclear weapons. Since 1964 China
has unconditionally pledged that it will never be the first to
use nuclear weapons at any time under any circumstance. China
has also pledged unconditionally not to use or threaten to use
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states. One hopes
that China will continue to adhere to these policies. However,
US policy, including its plans to deploy missile defenses, raises
the possibility that China will abandon these constructive policies.
The 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate, Sir Joseph Rotblat,
has called for a treaty among nuclear weapons states that commits
these states never to be the first to use nuclear weapons. Rotblat
argues that a treaty committing nuclear weapons states to No First
Use "would open the way to the gradual, mutual reductions
of nuclear arsenals, down to zero." He views such a treaty,
as do we, as a critical step in achieving a Nuclear Weapons Convention,
a treaty for the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons.
"Countries with nuclear weapons should undertake
unconditionally not to be the first to use them, and not to use
or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states
or nuclear-weapon-free regions. "
-Sun Yuxi, Foreign Ministry Spokesman for the People's Republic
of China, March 2002
*David Krieger and Carah
Ong are president and Director of Publications and Research at
the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.