The U.S. has shifted from being a democracy to being a thermonuclear monarchy which uses its nuclear powers to exert influence and achieve strategic goals around the world. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been modernizing its nuclear arsenal, while at the same time attempting to advance an international disarmament campaign. The United States should look to itself first. Nuclear peace activists are pushing for new measures which would limit the president’s power to start nuclear war. One of these is sole use. Sole use refers to the ability of the president to launch nuclear weapons without secondary authorization. In addition to this, nuclear first use is the commitment not to strike another country first in the event of a conflict. This clause is being pushed for by nuclear activists to be included in law in order to further limit the strike abilities of the president.
The ability of the president to initiate a nuclear strike unilaterally is the most vulnerable part of the system to mistakes or poor judgement. A nuclear catastrophe could mean the end of our civilization. Dr. Ira Helfand, a member of the steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said that “in the case of an attack on a city like New York, we are talking about 12-15 million people in a half hour. And if this were part of a large scale war between the United States and Russia, this level of destruction would befall every major city in both countries. If NATO were drawn into the conflict as well, most of the great cities in Europe and Canada as well. All told perhaps 200 million 300 million people dead in an afternoon.”
It is clear that this type of power should not rest in the hands of one person. But no first use and no sole use is just the first step. Right now countries are celebrating their achievement of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but the countries that have signed it are not the ones with their hands on the button. Clearly the world wants less nuclear weapons which can only bring us closer to the destruction of our civilization. For countries like the United States and Russia no first use and no sole use are not enough. What policies can contribute to peace?
How can we go back to a time before the bomb? Well, there is another option which president Biden pushed for during his campaign. This was sole-purpose. Sole purpose is the law prohibiting that nuclear weapons be used for anything other than deterrence. When the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in escalation of their nuclear capabilities during the Cold War, the strategy that the U.S. engaged in was one of deterrence. If the United States could prevent the Soviet Union from ever using their nuclear weapons, or prevent them from coming close enough to striking distance from major U.S. cities, then in the minds of U.S. leaders at the time, nuclear war could be prevented.
Much of the same logic is used by proponents of all three policy options today. First use is aimed at the prevention of nuclear war by means of neutralizing the method of attack when aggression comes from the side of the U.S. Sole use is for the purpose of preventing a president who is incapable, unfit for service, or otherwise unable to wield his authority with strong morals and judgement to begin nuclear war. Finally, sole purpose should be enacted in order to, in theory, limit any and all use of nuclear weapons. This policy would essentially ensure that nuclear weapons are never launched. It is the first step on the road to ratification of a treaty prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons in major nuclear powers around the globe.
If America can lead the world with this policy, she would be taking a step back from the brink of global catastrophe. We don’t have a lot of time to deal with the nuclear problem. A new age of détente should now come, one where the United States and Russia lead the charge to protect the security of their populations by easing the treat of nuclear war, and turning back the doomsday clock before it is too late.