The US and ‘No First Use’ of Nuclear Weapons: Providing Support as a Nuclear Victim Nation

Will the United States – the largest nuclear weapon state – announce a “no first use” of nuclear weapons? The world is watching to see President Obama’s decision.

A “no first use” policy calls for a nation’s non-use of nuclear weapons on an enemy, unless that enemy conducts a nuclear strike first. Successive U.S. administrations have firmly maintained a stance of not adopting this policy. If the U.S. were to adopt this policy now, it would reflect a major policy change.

Japan, which advocates for the abolishment of nuclear weapons as the sole nuclear victim nation in the world, should welcome U.S. policy change in this direction.

However, it seems the central government, which depends on the “nuclear umbrella” provided by the U.S. through security treaties, is moving back on this position. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denies the claim, but an influential U.S. newspaper reported that Prime Minister Abe expressed concerns over the proposed policy to a commander of the United States Pacific Command.

There is strong opposition within President Obama’s own administration and advocates for shelving a decision on the issue. Particularly in light of this situation, Japan should show leadership and urge policy change to the U.S. Our stance as the nuclear victim nation is being tested.

The reason for the U.S. not taking a “no first use” policy up to this point is because it would neutralize the nuclear umbrella, which would weaken deterrent force, and, thus, increase the risk of conflicts. In other words, by making other nations think that the U.S. might use nuclear weapons first, the U.S. maintained the effect of deterrent force.

Japan and South Korea, both exposed to a North Korean threat of continued nuclear and missile development, and the Western U.S. alliance, which faces off with Russia’s nuclear arsenal, are skeptical of this policy probably because of the anxiety over lowered deterrent force.

However, the U.S. has the ability to retaliate by annihilating an opponent that uses nuclear weapons. And if that opponent – who feared such an attack – did not have a “first use” policy, then the U.S. would be alone with such a policy.

A “no first use” policy can also prevent an accidental nuclear war from occurring.

China has already announced this policy, but all nuclear states should adopt it. And the significance of the U.S. adopting a “no first use” cannot be overstated.

Forty people, including former Japanese Foreign Minister Junko Kawaguchi, former cabinet-level politicians and senior military officers from the Asia-Pacific region, all strongly urged the Obama administration to adopt a “no first-use” policy through a joint statement this month.

The group concludes that such a policy would encourage change in existing nuclear coordination policy from the current “high-risk” state. Also, it is argued that if all nuclear states were to adopt the change, it could be the central axis of a world system in which nuclear weapons are limited. This paper endorses this view.

In 2010, President Obama, who advocates for a world free of nuclear weapons, announced a revamp of U.S. nuclear strategy, in which the U.S. would not conduct nuclear strikes on non-nuclear states in compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

With this further limitation of the role of nuclear weapons, if a “no first use” policy was adopted, nuclear weapons would be reduced even more. This paper is anticipating with great hope the decision to be given by President Obama, who newly affirmed his determination for a world free of nuclear weapons by being the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, site of the first nuclear-bombed area.

This paper also wants Prime Minister Abe, who accompanied President Obama to Hiroshima and stated at the time, “we cannot allow a repeat of this tragic experience,” to actively support President Obama in this endeavor. That is the mission of a nuclear victim nation in response to demands of its citizens for nuclear abolition.

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