Nuclear weapons

Consider a promise not to use nuclear weapons. To the extent that this promise is credible, it’s destabilizing, because it rewards a first strike. It gives an opponent an incentive to act first, and to act before someone else takes power and changes the policy.

Well, how about “no first use,” a stated policy to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation? This has no moral or rational basis. Why, having suffered a nuclear strike, would we inflict one, when it could do no good?

The sensible and moral policy is to say, and show, that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons against legitimate targets if a sufficiently grave threat to our national interest requires it. Furthermore, we should hope this is the policy of all the nuclear powers. That’s how you get stability. If every power is reluctant but willing, and ever power has delivery systems that can survive a first strike, every power has a powerful incentive not to strike first.

Unless they’re religious fanatics hoping to bring about the end times. People like that can’t really be deterred.


3 Replies to “Nuclear weapons”

  1. There is one reason for a place like the US to have a “First Hit’s Free” policy– we’re big enough that nobody can wipe us out before we respond, and we have enough power to do more damage to anybody else than they can do to us.

    The obvious issue with this is that it holds American lives very, very cheap.

    1. That we could survive a limited first strike contributes to stability, if it’s clear that we would retaliate. It doesn’t seem that in itself ‘First Hit’s Free’ makes that first hit less likely. The threats to stability aren’t rational actors, but fanatics like the Iranian Mullahs and the terrorists, and the criminal gang in North Korea.

      This logic of strike, retaliation, and deterrence isn’t limited to nuclear weapons. Assad having been allowed to get away with using chemical weapons, after the empty threat about crossing a “red line,” leads people to doubt our will to act. .

      Finally, a prediction: the next use of nuclear weapons will be by Muslims against other Muslims.

      1. I don’t think it make the first hit any less likely, either, because the folks sane enough to go “we can’t kill them” will notice we’re not going around nuking people for fun and profit, even though we’ve had the ability for so long that the folks who did it the first time have mostly died of old age.

        But the fact that I think it’s borderline insane as a whole means I’ve got to try to be fair in finding any possible argument for it, even if it’s so weak it requires pointing out that it involves a pile of innocent, deliberately exposed to enemy action, civilians….who happen to be OURS.

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