Democrats reintroduce bill to block US from using nuclear weapons first

Apr. 15, 2021

A pair of leading Democrats in the House and Senate reintroduced a bill Thursday to make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first in a military conflict.

The bill from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) simply says, “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.”

“Threatening to use nuclear weapons first makes America less safe because it increases the chances of a miscalculation or an accident,” Warren said in a statement. “There are no winners in a nuclear war, and the US should never start one.”

It has long been the policy of the United States that the country reserves the right to launch a preemptive nuclear strike.

Smith and Warren previously introduced the bill in 2019, but it went to nowhere amid bipartisan concerns about a “no first use” policy.

Opponents of such a policy argue that taking the option off the table to use a nuclear weapon first could embolden adversaries and undermine the confidence of allies in the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

But the bill could find a more receptive audience in President Biden. Biden has not addressed the topic since he became president, but as vice president in 2017, he said he finds it “hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary or make sense.”

In an effort to build their case against a “no first use” policy should Biden move toward one, Republicans have been asking defense officials and nominees for their views on the issue at hearings.

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At a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, told lawmakers that allies would have “mixed” reactions if the United States adopted a “no first use” policy “depending upon the ally’s awareness of the nuclear enterprise.”

“I currently support the U.S. position on not adhering to the nuclear no first use policy,” Wolters added under questioning from Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.).

In their news release Thursday, Smith and Warren argued their bill would improve U.S. national security by reducing the risk of a miscalculation, clarifying U.S. policy and preserving the ability to conduct a nuclear strike after a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies.

“The United States should never initiate a nuclear war,” Smith said in a statement. “This bill would strengthen deterrence while reducing the chance of nuclear use due to miscalculation or misunderstanding. Codifying that deterring nuclear use is the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal strengthens U.S. national security and would renew U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation and disbarment.”

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