Law should forbid U.S. nuclear first strike

Few Americans are still alive who have a living memory of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.   Maybe that’s why so little attention is paid to the danger of nuclear war, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s.

The purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter an attack by a foreign country with nuclear weapons, although the U.S. government has never renounced the option of a nuclear first strike, such as in the event of a Red Army invasion of western Europe.

But now President Donald Trump talks about using nuclear weapons to enforce his ultimatums against North Korea.  A nuclear attack on North Korea would be a crime against humanity.  An attack, or the threat of attack, might tempt North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, to pre-emptively attack the United States or its allies, figuring that he has nothing to lose.

Senator Ed Markey, D-MA, and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-CA, introduced bills in September, 2016, forbidding a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.   When they introduced those bills, it looked as if someone other that Donald Trump would be President in 2017, so they are more than merely anti-Trump.

Senator Bob Corker, R-TN, held hearings earlier this month on the possibility of a first nuclear strike by a U.S. President.   The best hope the witnesses could offer was that the military would not obey an illegal order.

A first strike would be a violation of international law, but the military chain of command might not regard international law as binding.   Legislation is needed to make a nuclear attack a legal crime as well as a moral crime.


Nuclear ‘first use’ hearing requires our attention by Ray Perkins Jr. for the Concord (NH) Monitor.

A Nuclear Reckoning: Senators Ponder the President’s Power to Launch Armageddon by Alexandra Ball for War on the Rocks.

“The Nuclear Enterprise Is on Autopilot”: A Conversation With Nuclear Expert William Hartung on Truthout.  [Added 11/28/2017]  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance by Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association,  [Added 11/25/2017]

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4 Responses to “Law should forbid U.S. nuclear first strike”

  1. anyvoices Says:

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  2. Cratylus Says:

    This is not new with Trump – in fact Trump has NOT EXPLICITLY threatened NK with nukes but that is not the main point. Read Ellsberg’s book. Every President since Truman has used the threat of First Use against recalcitrant countries.
    The US is always using nukes in this way – like a robber who holds a loaded gun to your head and who is known to have pulled the trigger (twice) before.
    Talk about blindness to history. Trump Derangement Syndrome can lead to ignoring history in the very way you deplore.


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