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1. All states owning or hosting nuclear weapons shall immediately de-alert them and commit to no-first-use.

Rapporteur: Barbara Birkett

Where We Are: “Two Minutes to Midnight”! –see The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1)

According to the Federation of American Scientists 2), the world has 14,485 nuclear weapons, about 9335 in military stockpiles, ready for use, the rest awaiting dismantlement. 93% are owned by the US and Russia, with each having about 4,000 warheads in their stockpiles. Many of these are thirty or fifty or more times as lethal as the weapons that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

3,750 are with operational forces; 1,940 US, Russian, British, and French warheads are on High Alert.

No-First-Use has been declared by China and India; in 1993 the latter stated that it would respond massively to any size of nuclear attack and changed the wording to “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states” in 2010.

France, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the USA say they will use nuclear weapons against nuclear or non-nuclear states only in the case of invasion or other attack against their territories or against one of their allies. In 2017 the UK stated it would use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike “in the most extreme circumstances”.

Pakistan, although it has a no-first-attack policy, refuses to have a NFU doctrine. The USA does not have a NFU policy, although attempts have been made to require congressional approval for a pre-emptive strike or to adopt a NFU rule. NATO has refused to adopt a no-first-use policy. Israel has not stated its stance. North Korea has stated different policies at various times 3)

The Problems

Rising tensions between the US and Russia, nuclear developments in North Korea, climate change, other international conflicts, possible Cyber attacks leading to release or loss of control of nuclear weapons are major concerns. Current US threats of withdrawal from the INF treaty (and previous leaving of the ABM treaty) with subsequent loss of contact and verification abilities, might further risk accidental, mistaken or deliberate launches.

Given that US and Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) can reach the other’s countries within about 30 minutes, a US President or Russian leader might have only about 12 minutes to decide whether to order an attack or response to an attack. Is it fair that any single human being should have to make such decision, and so quickly? Or should such a decision ever be made?

Maintaining nuclear weapons as deterrent, either on alert or off, is the prime excuse for their possession, but also causes other countries to feel they must have their own deterrent weapons, so that we now have nine nuclear weapons states. The world once reached nearly 70,000 weapons. Although the numbers are much reduced, all nine nuclear states are either making new weapons, or modernizing them, and some even thinking of making the weapons “more usable” As noted above, at least four nuclear weapon states have weapons on high alert, and feel they should be so maintained. The deterrence doctrine is coupled with plans to use nuclear weapons if deterrence fails. In some cases it is even contemplated using nuclear weapons in response to a conventional weapons attack. Even a limited nuclear war such as might occur between India and Pakistan, using Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons, could cause 2 billion deaths. 4)

Other arguments note, in spite of persistent efforts in the command and control systems, the many near misses or actual accidents that actually have occurred over the years, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Able Archer close call in 1983, the near-launch when a practice tape was played in the US in error, the research flight from Norway in 1995 which the Russians thought was a nuclear weapons attack and the proposed response was only prevented by a brave Russian. Other numerous near calamities are recorded in the book of about 500 pages, ”Command and Control,” by Eric Schlosser 5)

The NPT recognized the dangers of nuclear arms, and the nuclear weapons states are supposed to be committed to disarming their nuclear weapons as quickly as possible, not just preventing proliferation to other states. Last year’s TPNW, signed by 122 states and already ratified by 19, arose from the frustration of many states (particularly those who had been the victims of nuclear tests), at the nuclear states lack of action or very slow pace, in the last eight or nine years especially, on nuclear disarmament and abolition.

The Red Cross/Red Crescent has declared that there can be no possible humanitarian response in a nuclear conflict.

Those holding the view that abolition of nuclear weapons is the correct move, believe that, while it may be true that nuclear weapons sometimes do act as a deterrence for aggression, like any medications with serious and lethal side effects, they should be withdrawn from the market, as the risks of accidental or deliberate use are too high.

Suggested Solutions-De-Alerting, No First Use, End Sole Authority for Launch, Stop Enhancing Weapons, Pursue Nuclear Disarmament, Sign the TPNW. (these latter four will be discussed later).

Some are calling for an intermediate stance, a deterrence only policy,

Others see such actions as urgent steps to total nuclear disarmament.

Others call for maintenance of alert status.


Intermediate stance de-alerting policy:

Phillips and Starr [2006] noted that changing from a Launch-on-Warning policy to Retaliatory-Launch-Only–After-Detonation would reduce the risk of accidental war from false alarms. It would not require de-alerting or verification and might be more acceptable to the US and Russia. Deterrence could be maintained. 6)

The deterrence only policy is promoted as being able to proceed with fewer nuclear weapons requirements and reduction of the current modernization plans. It would rely mainly on submarine based missiles, would not require a time-sensitive retaliation nuclear attack, and could be supplemented by conventional and cyber attacks. It would be decoupled from the idea of immediately destroying the enemy’s nuclear forces. It would be less expensive and allow better use for funds in other endeavours. It would require much up-grading of C3 networks. It still retains the deterrence doctrine, but not, according to its proponents, deterrence +war-fighting. 7) 8) 9)

The arguments for maintaining alert status state that cyber attack could still occur after de-alerting, that even with a longer decision-making time, a president could not make a better decision in the event of a threatened or actual nuclear strike after de-alerting, because of even more risk from rapid re-alerting. They state that foes would be emboldened rather than pacified under such conditions and that de-alerting would lead to de facto NO-First-USE. They call for better cyber security, especially with modernization. They are willing to discuss perhaps eliminating ICBMs. 10)

Others state that under alert status deliberate or accidental launches or attacks are Too Grave a Risk. De-Alerting should be the First step in avoiding these. The Union of Concerned Scientists suggests simple methods for accomplishing this. 11)

NO FIRST USE- Statements by the Red Cross and Red Crescent that there is no possible humanitarian response to any use of nuclear weapons and its call for assurance that such weapons “are never again used” certainly reinforce the arguments against First Use. The ICJ opinion in 1996 that said use of nuclear weapons would be in almost all conceivable situations illegal also supports a stance for No-First-Use. Such arguments were also made at the Humanitarian conferences in Oslo, Nayarit and Austria.

De-alerting would help adoption of a doctrine of No-First-Use.

Also essential would be confidence building and communication with foes (eg between US and Russia to make sure disarmament and de-alert agreements were being followed.

At the UN General Assembly First Committee vote on the Humanitarian Pledge in 2015 the NW states and their umbrella countries asserted “recognition of the grave humanitarian consequences of a nuclear weapons detonation” and at the same time “security and humanitarian principles co-exist” They suggested that the proponents of a TPNW’s resolutions “do not reflect these realities and imperatives” and contribute” to increasing international divisions regarding nuclear disarmament”.

Their remarks reflect their dilemma in trying to relate NATO’s supposed support for the NPT and disarmament and NATO’s policy that nuclear weapons are an essential component of its deterrence stance. NATO will not even accept a No First Use doctrine, and several European states have US tactical nuclear weapons on their soils. 12)

Others deny the dichotomy between humanitarian and security goals. They point out that the risks of having nuclear weapons far outweigh any benefits, particularly in times of heightened tension, as now. Immediate start on de-alerting as suggested by various experts, and adoption of No First Use would lessen danger of use and allow for further rational discussion and reduction of numbers of weapons, re enforce the NPT, encourage more nations to sign the TPNW, and eliminate the nuclear weapons. 13) 14) 15)

In June 2018 the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence called upon the Government ”to take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons.” Canada can perhaps work inside NATO, with like-minded allies, to help achieve these goals, help change some of NATO’s nuclear doctrine and promote removal of tactical weapons from its members’ territories. 16)


The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists
Status of World Nuclear Forces: Federation of American Scientists
Wikipedia, “No First Use”:
Ira Helfand, Nuclear Famine “2 Billion People at risk,” 2013,
Eric Schlosser Command and Control Penguin Press 2013
Alan Phillips, Steven Starr: “Change Launch on Warning Policy”
The End of Nuclear Warfighting-Moving to a Deterrence only Posture-Bruce Blair Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, 2018
“Reframing the Nuclear De-Alerting Debate: Toward Maximizing Presidential Decision Time,” Nuclear Threat Initiative
“De-Alerting Nuclear Forces,” Kristenssen, McKinzie, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
“A Simple Method for Taking US Land-Based Nuclear Missiles Off High Alert,” 2015
“Folding the Nuclear Umbrella: Nuclear Allies, the NPT and the Ban Treaty” APLN-Toda. Policy Brief No.58 Feb.2018, Paul Meyer
Darryl Kimball- Arms Control Association “The Case for a US No-First-Use Policy,”
Back from the Brink The Call to Prevent Nuclear War
Ira Helfand, “Sheer Luck has helped us avoid nuclear war so far-now we need to take some action”, 2018
Regehr: NATO and Nuclear Disarmament-1:NATO’s nuclear posture The Simons Foundation
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