Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Need for a USA”no first use” of nuclear weapons policy – the concern of regional U.S. allies


In our lead article this week, Van Jackson makes a compelling case for the United States to establish a no-first use policy on nuclear weapons. This would entail a pledge from Washington that its nuclear arsenal would not be used as a means of warfare except in the event that it was first subject to a nuclear attack by an adversary. While there is already some momentum behind such a policy amongst Democrats, Biden has taken no concrete steps towards implementing it and it has yet to be legislated by Congress.

No-first use nuclear policy. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/07/05/no-first-use-nuclear-policy/ Author: Editorial Board, ANU, 5 July 21,

Since the election of Joe Biden in 2020, much of the world has breathed a collective sigh of relief as we have witnessed what appears to be a return to ‘pre-Trump normalcy’ in the United States. One of the greatest foreign policy challenges that faces the Biden administration, however, is recovering US credibility in Asia, which was severely undermined by his predecessor Donald Trump.

From the standpoint of US allies in the region, a concerning aspect of Trump’s rise to the presidency was his loose talk about nuclear weapons and apparent openness to utilising them against adversaries. While most allies have long emphasised the immense benefits of the US security guarantee and its attendant nuclear umbrella, Trump’s rise to power rendered alliance relationships potential liabilities.

These concerns among allies in the region were significantly elevated in 2017, when Trump began to entertain the prospect of launching a pre-emptive — albeit non-nuclear — strike against North Korea. He supposedly even went so far as to order an evacuation of US servicemen and their families from Seoul — an injunction that was ultimately not carried out by US officials in South Korea. His apparent willingness to engage in conflict with a nuclear-armed North Korea was reinforced rhetorically as he threatened ‘fire and fury’ against Kim Jong-un’s regime.

These developments had US allies (and non-allies alike) in the region beleaguered by the prospect of nuclear war in the region. Their concerns were reinforced by Trump’s predilection to appoint family members — with little to no foreign policy expertise — as official advisors. The notion that a US-initiated conflict with North Korea, entailing probable commitment by American allies, might be informed in part by the likes of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner was a severe indictment of alliance management.

The election of Joe Biden allayed some of the concerns of US allies. But the fact that Trump received over 70 million votes in the election and may run again for president in 2024 means that his tenure cannot be easily viewed as an unfortunate aberration.

What can Biden do during his presidency to restore confidence among American allies in the region, and restore US credibility in the aftermath of the Trump administration?

In our lead article this week, Van Jackson makes a compelling case for the United States to establish a no-first use policy on nuclear weapons. This would entail a pledge from Washington that its nuclear arsenal would not be used as a means of warfare except in the event that it was first subject to a nuclear attack by an adversary. While there is already some momentum behind such a policy amongst Democrats, Biden has taken no concrete steps towards implementing it and it has yet to be legislated by Congress.

Jackson outlines three common arguments that are cited against a non-first use nuclear policy: China, Russia and North Korea would never believe in the veracity of no-first use declarations; it would encourage uncertainty among adversaries as to whether the United States could use nuclear weapons against them; and there would also be concerns among American allies about the implications of a no-first use policy for US extended nuclear deterrence and Washington’s ability to deter threats on their behalf.

Yet Jackson argues that, ‘ … the world is no longer unipolar. The old bargain — Washington does arms-racing so allies don’t — makes no sense in a world where US politics is depressingly awry. Allied nuclear proliferation poses its own risks, but it may be a better alternative to US nuclear preponderance and presidential first-use launch authority’.

As the region becomes increasingly volatile, a policy of US restraint on the use of nuclear weapons has acquired new urgency. The advent of the Biden administration has done little to alleviate US–China tensions; Biden’s China policy so far appears to be a continuation of that of the Trump administration. Meanwhile, prospects of a cross-Strait crisis continue to rise and progress on the denuclearisation of North Korea remains elusive. These political tensions have been aggravated by economic destabilisation in the region that has been fuelled by the COVID-19 crisis.

These developments have spawned new concerns about conflict and the role of US alliances in the region. Some analysts believe that such conflict would have potential to evolve into nuclear war. Given that the US-led alliance network is premised on the maintenance of regional peace and security, it behoves Washington to clarify that it will not employ first use of nuclear weapons.

This is important for the Biden government. It is also important for the future US administrations that could see the likes of Trump with a finger back on the nuclear button.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

July 5, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, weapons and war

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