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12:20 19 July 2016

OPINION: Why Japan ought to support nuclear no-first-use

By Bruce Blair
PRINCETON, New Jersey, July 18, Kyodo

President Barack Obama is seriously considering ruling out the first use of U.S. nuclear weapons in times of crisis or conflict in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, or any other hot spot in the world.

He reasons, correctly in my opinion, that U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic power combined with allied strength are overwhelmingly superior to the power of any potential adversary, and that we would not need to initiate the use of nuclear weapons to successfully defend the sovereignty and vital national security interests of the 30 nations, including Japan, that depend upon U.S. protection.

Indeed, if nuclear weapons are employed, it will be much harder to protect and defend our allies, and ourselves. The likely result would be escalation and utter ruin for all concerned.

The slow but steady expansion of North Korean and Chinese nuclear capabilities does not alter this assessment. Their nuclear programs have not fundamentally changed the balance of power in the region. U.S. nuclear forces, whose numbers are 20 times greater than China's and 200 times greater than North Korea's, work powerfully to deter them from starting a nuclear war. Any nuclear aggression on their part would be suicidal. Nuclear weapons are less effective in deterring conventional aggression, but U.S. and allied non-nuclear forces can handle this threat. Their armies, air and naval forces can well defend allied territories and critical trading sea lanes against the Chinese as well as ensure the decisive defeat of North Korea's conventional forces in wartime. Japan need not fear that its sovereignty could not be protected in the face of conventional aggression by any enemy.

The rationale for no-first-use runs deeper. In the case of North Korea, such use would not only be gratuitous (because they are not needed to defeat the North), but also would risk blanketing Japan (and possibly South Korea) with deadly radioactive fall-out due to prevailing westerly winds. This is just one example of how the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons makes their use anathema.

The hard inescapable fact is that first use by any nation against another nuclear armed nation or its close allies would likely escalate and result in the destruction of all the belligerent nations. No rational U.S. commander in chief would authorize it. The only defensible and credible role of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others. This is why China and India endorsed no-first-use long ago, and why the United States seeks to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons, leading ultimately to their elimination, while sheltering allies under an awesome umbrella composed of non-nuclear military capabilities backed up by muscular diplomacy and superpower economic muscle.

If President Obama decides to adopt a no-first-use policy, it will further de-legitimize nuclear weapons and strengthen national security for the United States and its Asian friends.

(Bruce Blair is Research Scholar, Princeton University and Co-Founder, Global Zero.)

==Kyodo

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