Back From the Brink

Here is an arms-control plan, based on a new nuclear strategy, that requires no negotiations, no treaties, and no verification—a plan that the United States and its allies, taking arms control into their own hands, can implement unilaterally, thereby immediately reducing the risk of a nuclear confrontation.


FOR THE PAST FORTY YEARS THE UNITED States and its allies have wielded the threat of initiating the use of nuclear weapons as a substitute for the deployment of conventional forces sufficient to deter and, if necessary, to defeat potential enemies. This policy has proved costly to U.S. security: it has increased the risk of nuclear war, damaged relations with our allies, and undermined the fighting ability of our conventional forces. Moreover, despite four decades of effort, no one has been able to develop plans for using nuclear weapons that would either increase the prospect of military victory or produce any outcome short of the destruction of the United States and its allies. It is time for U.S. policy on “first use" of nuclear weapons to be re-examined.

We propose an alternative that we believe merits serious public debate. Briefly, it is this: The United States should base its military plans, training programs, defense budgets, weapons deployments, and arms negotiations on the assumption that it will not initiate the use of nuclear weapons. We believe that adoption of this principle would reduce the risk of nuclear war, improve the prospects for arms control, strengthen public support for policies pursued by NATO, and ultimately lead to improvements in conventional capability that would enhance the security of the United States and its allies.

In 1982 four of us wrote an article calling for debate on a similar but not identical proposition (McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kennan, Robert S. McNamara, and Gerard C. Smith, “Nuclear Weapons and the Atlantic Alliance,”Foreign Affairs, Spring 1982). The proposals we put forward were not new, but we hoped they would spark a public debate on the proper role of nuclear weapons in our security policy. Our aim, we stated, was not to end a discussion but to begin one. We have come together in a larger group in the hope of advancing that discussion.

Much has occurred since 1982. Pershing II and cruise missiles are being deployed in Europe, over strenuous public objections. The deployment has been billed as a victory for the cohesion of the alliance. President Ronald Reagan, meanwhile, has proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), calling on the scientific community to render ballistic missiles impotent and move toward eliminating all nuclear weapons. The SDI has potentially serious implications for extended nuclear deterrence.

The most noteworthy development since 1982, with respect to the issues raised here, has been a new emphasis on the importance of conventional forces as an alternative to nuclear first use. In our view, a broad consensus has emerged in support of significantly reducing reliance on nuclear weapons. President Reagan himself has said, “For too long, we and our allies have permitted nuclear weapons to be a crutch, a way of not having to face up to real defense needs. We must free ourselves from that crutch. Our goal should be to deter, and if necessary to repel, any aggression without a resort to nuclear arms.”

Prominent religious groups have called for alternatives to the first use of nuclear weapons—alternatives that would not increase the threat of war. Two congressional authorities on defense, Senator Sam Nunn and Representative Les Aspin, have urged the West to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons. Experienced military officials, including the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Bernard W. Rogers, have concurred. The United States has taken a modest but significant step toward a diminished reliance on nuclear weapons by reducing their number in Europe. Even after the planned reductions are completed, however, there will be some 4,500 U.S. warheads based in Great Britain and on the Continent.

The yearning of the American public for a change is reflected in its positive response to the SDI, which promises a “shield” against nuclear attack, as well as to proposals that would eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. While both of these approaches are based on unrealistic political and technological assumptions, we believe, the reaction to them does demonstrate the receptiveness of the public to new ideas. It also highlights the importance of developing an alternative to the current policy before the desire for change produces an irresistible pressure either to retreat from U.S. commitments abroad or to maintain them dangerously.

In the short run the United States can and should move toward a diminished reliance on nuclear weapons by reducing and relocating vulnerable nuclear forces currently deployed near the NATO-Warsaw Pact border. We believe that eventually the United States, in concert with its NATO allies, should formalize its commitment not to initiate the use of nuclear weapons and should alter its deployments, war plans, and attitudes accordingly.

Current U.S. Policy: The Threat of “First Use”

MANY AMERICANS ARE NOT WELL INformed about the nature of U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons. According to one survey conducted in 1984, for example, 81 percent of Americans polled believe that current policy is to use nuclear weapons “if, and only if, the Soviets attack the United States first with nuclear weapons.” This is a fundamental misunderstanding.

In fact the possibility of first use permeates all aspects of American defense policy. In the European theater and elsewhere, the United States contemplates and plans for a first use of nuclear weapons in response to conventional attack. U.S. military and civilian officials draw up war plans and buy and deploy weapons on the assumption that the President will initiate the use of nuclear weapons “if necessary.”U.S. foreign commitments, as well as calculations about the forces needed to meet those commitments, are based on the assumption that the United States would in some circumstances be the first to use nuclear weapons. Successive Administrations have rejected arms-control proposals that might limit the nation’s capabilities with respect to first use.

Current American policy relies heavily on the threat of first use despite the conspicuous lack of a plausible set of circumstances in which nuclear exchanges would not gravely risk catastrophic damage to the United States and its allies. Most experts agree that even the most limited use of nuclear weapons could lead quickly to vast destruction in the United States and Europe. Decision-makers would be under great pressure during a crisis. There would be a strong incentive to fire off nuclear weapons before they could be destroyed on their launchers. Command, control, and communications would deteriorate once a nuclear war had begun, leaving decision-makers with incomplete information on rapidly changing battlefield conditions. These factors make it likely that authority to use nuclear weapons would have to be delegated to field commanders soon after the onset of a nuclear conflict, or perhaps even before it began. Such a policy offers little room for error and leaves little time for rational response.

The only effective and durably credible role of nuclear weapons is to deter others from using them. Yet the threat of nuclear first use has remained a part of U.S. policy ever since the United States acquired nuclear weapons, persisting through its loss of a nuclear monopoly in the late 1940s and its loss of nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union some two decades later. A continuing commitment to such a policy might ultimately present the United States with the choice of initiating the use of nuclear weapons or seeing a bluff called. Either way, the consequences could be disastrous.

A clear U.S. decision that nuclear weapons will not be used first in any conflict, or will not be used early in a nuclear conflict, would contribute to U.S. and allied security in a number of reciprocally reinforcing ways. When integrated into all aspects of military planning, such policies would reduce the risk that nuclear weapons would be used in the heat of crisis, would reduce political tensions that give rise to such crises, and would improve the operational effectiveness of existing conventional forces.

How a First-Use Doctrine Harms Allied Security

THE RELIANCE BY NATO ON NUCLEAR first use directly and adversely affects its capacity to fight a conventional war. Owing to statutory limits that the United States imposes on the number (326,414) of its soldiers in Europe, some American conventional forces are being sent back to the United States in order to make room for those given nuclear missions. As General Rogers testified in May of 1985, “What is happening is as I eat the spaces for the groundlaunched cruise missiles, nuclear weapons, I am bringing in nuclear weapons . . . and sending conventional forces home.”

Plans for first use of nuclear weapons further limit the artillery and aircraft available for conventional operations. Tactical (short-range) nuclear forces in Europe rely primarily on launchers, such as howitzers and tactical aircraft, that are “dual-capable”—capable, that is, of launching either conventional or nuclear weapons. In the event of a conventional conflict, and even if full conventional strength were required, a number of these launchers would be held in reserve for nuclear missions. In fact, the incentive to withhold “dual-capable” artillery and aircraft would increase as the fighting intensified—the very point at which they would be most urgently needed.

The destructiveness of nuclear weapons also places a number of restrictions on NATO units to which such weapons are assigned. In peacetime, nuclear-certified units must be trained in extensive safety-and-control procedures. Nuclear munitions, for example, require command, control, and communications arrangements separate from those for conventional munitions. They require extensive security precautions against accidents and terrorism. All of these requirements place heavy demands on limited resources. In forward units the elaborate management procedures that necessarily accompany nuclear systems not only consume scarce manpower but also increase the risk that nuclear weapons would be used, if at all, in the heat of the moment, rather than as the result of careful deliberation.

Much of NATO’s nuclear arsenal, despite security precautions, remains vulnerable to purely conventional attack by Warsaw Pact tactical air units. To conserve personnel and resources, all U.S. tactical nuclear munitions are concentrated in a relatively small number of storage facilities. Because of their concentration and visibility, these sites would be attractive targets and are highly vulnerable to attack. The Western alliance is thus posed with a dilemma. If NATO, during a political crisis in Europe, felt that a conflict was imminent, it might move to scatter its vulnerable nuclear assets in order to protect them. Soviet leaders, however, might very well interpret such an action as preparation for a NATO nuclear attack. NATO’s alternative would be to allow those weapons to remain concentrated and vulnerable to a pre-emptive Warsaw Pact strike—nuclear or conventional. In either case Soviet leaders would be under pressure to destroy the weapons quickly—and NATO field commanders would be under pressure to use them quickly.

Perhaps the greatest cost to and most important prejudice against conventional capabilities is one that Robert S. McNamara has identified: “The reliance on NATO’s nuclear threats for deterrence makes it more difficult to muster the political and financial support necessary to sustain an adequate conventional military force. Both publics and governments point to the nuclear force as the ‘real deterrent,’ thus explaining their reluctance to allocate even modest sums for greater conventional capabilities.” In a world of finite resources and political constraints, the investment in nuclear forces serves not as a military backup to conventional forces but as a political replacement for them. The problem is compounded by the integration, in front-line combat units, of nuclear and conventional weapons, undermining the effectiveness of a conventional defense. This imposition of a nuclear capability on conventional forces means that the threat of first use of nuclear arms, intended to create a possibility that deters, may in the end drive decision-makers in a crisis to authorize the firing of nuclear weapons.

NATO has become, in effect, a captive of its war plans, its training programs, and its authorization and management procedures. Despite the current doctrine of flexible response in Europe, NATO military planners have warned that in reality the response during a crisis would hardly be flexible. The deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons in forward areas could, in fact, negate the doctrine, because it could require that a decision to “use or lose” nuclear weapons be made very early—even before a purely conventional defense had been attempted. General Rogers has stated that whatever his actual authority, he would be forced to “escalate fairly quickly to the first use of nuclear weapons” if war broke out. For this reason he has supported a no-early-use policy in Europe coupled with an improved conventional capability.

One of the fundamental assumptions underlying a firstuse policy is that the explosive power of nuclear weapons can substitute for NATO manpower. First-use proponents suggest, for example, that nuclear weapons will be available as a last resort to avoid a defeat by conventional arms if NATO forces are outnumbered and in danger of being overrun. But since avoiding conventional defeat is the goal, substituting nuclear weapons for fighting men is not the answer. Nuclear weapons cannot make up for manpower deficiencies. They cannot hold ground. Many studies have suggested that a NATO escalation to nuclear war would favor the side with greater manpower, because of the tremendous number of casualties that would occur on both sides.

It is NATO’s contention that first use could be used as a political signal of the alliance’s strength and resolve in the midst of a conventional battle, a means of restoring deterrence and convincing the adversary that further aggression is useless. But the vulnerability of NATO’s nuclear weapons to pre-emptive attack, and the fact that they could not reverse the tide of a losing battle, belie these arguments. NATO’s leaders must realize that nuclear weapons used against a conventional threat offer no net military gain.

NATO’S STRATEGY OF RELYING ON THE FIRST use of nuclear weapons has, in our view, not only diminished its ability to respond with conventional forces but also increased the likelihood that at the height of a crisis NATO would resort to nuclear weapons. In the opinion of many first-use proponents, this dependence on nuclear weapons is precisely what is required to deter a conventional attack by Warsaw Pact forces and thus to avert war in Europe, either nuclear or conventional. The best way to avoid a nuclear war, first-use proponents argue, is to avoid the conventional war from which it might evolve.

In order to reduce the risk of conventional war, the argument continues, NATO must increase the risk of nuclear war; it must integrate nuclear and conventional forces, deploy vulnerable nuclear systems in forward areas, and create a situation that is likely to get out of hand soon after the beginning of any conflict. We recognize that these circumstances may prompt a measure of hesitation among Soviet decision-makers. But NATO cannot afford to continue to base its forces and its strategy on this prospect alone.

First, even if the specter of “nuclear accidents waiting to happen” instills a greater measure of caution in Soviet leaders, it cannot guarantee that the East and the West will never stumble into war. It must guarantee this, however, because a single failure of NATO’s first-use policy could all too easily escalate to global nuclear war. There are many examples throughout history of wars beginning not through a rational calculation of potential benefit and cost but through a miscalculation at the height of a political crisis. If, as a result of ambiguous NATO activities or an intelligence failure, the Soviet Union became convinced that the West was about to commit an act of conventional aggression, then it might well take some military action regardless of a possible nuclear response. In addition, NATO’s first-use posture would increase the danger that any unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, or their use by a third party against the Warsaw Pact or NATO countries, could be misinterpreted and spiral out of control.

There is a second reason why NATO should not rely on nuclear first use. What is most important in keeping the peace in Europe is the political self-confidence of the West. The decisive consideration in the Soviet calculus is whether pressure against NATO will be met by a united alliance with the ability and resolve to respond firmly. Certainly, doubts about the loyalty of East European forces enter into NATO calculations. While first-use proponents warn that a fundamental shift away from current policy would threaten the unity of the alliance, it is in fact current policy that presents the greater long-term threat to that unity. NATO’s first-use policy, rather than providing a foundation for a united and self-confident defense, has become a growing source of distrust and dissension.

The divisive impact of the first-use policy is apparent in the major conflicts that have dogged the alliance since its formation. NATO has never been able to agree, for example, on the shape that “follow-on” use of nuclear weapons should take if “demonstration” use is not successful in persuading the adversary to halt and withdraw. After the deployment of U.S. tactical and intermediate-range nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s, NATO was likewise unable to reach agreement on military plans for their use. Plans to deploy the neutron bomb in the late 1970s met with strong resistance in Europe. More recently, bitter and divisive debates have taken place between the United States and its European allies, and between European governments and much of the European public, over the deployment of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe, scheduled for completion in 1988.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union have nowput forward proposals to eliminate medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe. The European reaction to improved prospects for an agreement, despite earlier calls for progress in arms control, has been cautious at best. Reportedly, one German official has commented, “The whole idea of bringing the missiles over here was to reinforce the nuclear link between Europe and the United States. After all the agony and protests over deployment, we will probably go through a new debate now over how credible is the American nuclear umbrella.” This is just the most recent example of the ways in which NATO’s first-use policy forces an unfortunate choice between maintaining the cohesion of the alliance and reducing the risk of war through arms control.

Needless to say, peacetime tensions within the alliance do not bode well for NATO’s performance during an EastWest military confrontation. As a 1983 report by the North Atlantic Assembly stated: “Few experts believe that the NATO political consultation process could possibly function effectively in time of crisis. In this sense the close proximity of battlefield nuclear weapons to the potential combat zone increases the urgency of the decision-making process and places an unnecessary and undesirable pressure on the Alliance political leadership.”

Uncertainty about NATO’s ability to respond effectively in a crisis undermines conventional deterrence. According to most experts, there is little risk that NATO would fail to receive early warning of Warsaw Pact preparations for an attack. There is a significant risk, however, that the alliance, out of fear of alarming the Soviet Union and provoking an attack, would fail to authorize prudent actions in response. The commingling of nuclear and conventional forces would reinforce this tendency toward inaction among Western leaders. Proposals to give field commanders, in advance, the authority to respond incrementally by increasing readiness are politically unacceptable and unwise. However, delays in NATO mobilization and reinforcement would significantly shift the conventional balance in favor of the Warsaw Pact and would present the worst possible conventional scenario.

Such a situation, in the context of a serious political crisis in which the Soviets felt strong incentives to take military action, would undermine conventional deterrence and could increase the risk of a “smash-and-grab” maneuver. The best deterrent to such an action is to have a conventional defense in place and ready, not an “immobilized” nuclear NATO. As Field Marshal Lord Carver, the former Chief of the British Defence Staff, has warned: “It is folly for the Organization to base its defense on a policy which, in time of real tension, would divide it. It must find a policy on which it could remain united—and that can only be one which does not rely on being the first to use nuclear weapons.” To discourage limited Soviet military actions NATO can continue to rely on a nuclear deterrent of low credibility or it can emphasize a conventional response of high credibility. The second alternative provides a more reliable deterrent and promises a lower risk of nuclear war.

Toward an Alternative NATO Nuclear Policy

RAISING DIFFICULT QUESTIONS ABOUT the long-run effectiveness of NATO’s nuclear deterrent is essential. Such questions will continue to bedevil the alliance as long as its strategy is based on false assumptions about the nature of nuclear weapons and implausible scenarios for their limited use. The most promising means of strengthening the alliance’s cohesion and confidence lies in reducing, and then removing, its reliance on first use.

One essential component of a new consensus is that NATO allies be reassured as to the firmness of the U.S. security commitment. Yet one lesson of the Euromissile controversy is that in the minds of many Europeans, greater reliance on nuclear weapons no longer provides this reassurance—quite the opposite. The proliferation of nuclearweapons systems has aroused strong and growing concern about the risks of nuclear war. As long as the United States relies on nuclear weapons to “reassure” its allies, it will be caught in conflicting European currents: on the one hand, concern that the United States would not employ nuclear weapons soon enough, and, on the other hand, concern that the United States would use them too readily. As the British defense analyst J. Michael Legge has written, “It was never entirely clear whether the Europeans wanted a finger on the nuclear trigger or on the safety catch.” Europeans want to feel confident that the United States would not actually start a nuclear war in Europe but would like the Soviet Union to believe the opposite. It is a difficult task to show such resolve to the Soviet Union and hide it from the people of Western Europe.

The only way to reconcile these conflicting demands is to seek alternative means of demonstrating the commitment that this country has consistently felt. Relying on conventional forces to meet conventional threats means a redefinition, not an abandonment, of shared commitment and shared risk. It would still be necessary for the United States to be ready to reply with American nuclear weapons to any nuclear attack on its European allies.

The most tangible and non-provocative evidence of U.S. commitment is the presence of U.S. forces in Europe. As Michael Howard, the military historian, has argued, “The United States is ‘coupled’ to Europe, not by one delivery system rather than another, but by a vast web of military installations and personnel, to say nothing of the innumerable economic, social, and financial links that tie us together into a single coherent system.” These links ensure that any war in Europe—nuclear or conventional— would immediately be an American war. If our allies require additional reassurance, then a formal permanent commitment of U.S. forces to the defense of Europe may offer the best evidence that a desire to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons does not indicate a reduction of the U.S. commitment to the security of its European allies. It is precisely because this commitment is felt so strongly that we are concerned about the form it takes.

It is time that the responsibility for avoiding war returned to where it belongs—with political leaders. Avoiding war is a matter of managing conflicting interests and ensuring that alternatives to military force exist. There is no technological “fix” to substitute for the complex process of managing political relations. The best way to avoid war in Europe is to ensure that Soviet political interests would not be served by it.

What would Europe be like without its nuclear “crutch”? Would Western Europe be made “safe for conventional aggression,”as Alexander Haig has warned? Whether considering a “smash-and-grab” maneuver or a full-scale attack, Warsaw Pact forces would be likely to confront a united NATO that had formidable conventional strength. The greater economic resources of the West suggest that Warsaw Pact forces would face a long conventional war even if they decisively won the first campaign. British and French nuclear forces would remain under independent control and capable of initiating the use of their nuclear weapons in a crisis—but they would not be compelled to do so, given their survivability and their distance from the East-West border.

NATO leaders would have to consider what diminished reliance on nuclear weapons would mean for Soviet behavior in a crisis. A NATO shift in policy, after being reflected in NATO force planning, might encourage Soviet leaders to adhere to their own declaration of no first use and might reduce their incentive to launch pre-emptive attacks on NATO nuclear assets at a time of crisis. At the very minimum, such a shift would improve East-West relations and increase the opportunity for progress in arms control.

But would Soviet leaders have such confidence in the NATO no-first-use policy that they would be encouraged to launch a conventional attack? We believe that the answer is no. First, there are grave political considerations—such as fear of convulsion in Eastern Europe and respect for the internal political strength of the NATO nations—that make a Soviet decision to attack Western Europe exceedingly unlikely under any present or foreseeable conditions. But quite aside from this fundamental reality, which is in fact better understood today in Western Europe than in Washington, we believe that no change in Western doctrine could or should give the Soviets reliable assurance that NATO’s nuclear weapons would not be used if the fighting got out of control.

The Soviets have repeatedly stated their determination not to be the first to use nuclear weapons, but no NATO planner would take such public statements at face value. NATO continues to anticipate the possibility that the Warsaw Pact will initiate the use of nuclear weapons, and the Warsaw Pact would do the same if there were a no-first-use declaration by the West. With or without such a declaration, any Soviet leader would be hesitant to mass Warsaw Pact divisions for an offensive and thereby create valuable targets for NATO nuclear weapons. So long as nuclear weapons remain available to the alliance, the possibility of their use exists and cannot be discounted by the East or the West. A new NATO policy could not remove this risk altogether, but it could reduce it.

Concrete Steps That the West Can Take

THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM OF THE current first-use policy is that it misconstrues the nature of nuclear weapons. It assumes that nuclear weapons can fulfill conventional war-fighting roles. But even their most limited use carries an unacceptable risk of escalation to general war. How have nuclear planners responded to this problem? They have redoubled their efforts to make a first-use policy credible. They have sought to buttress first-use threats by integrating nuclear and conventional forces, by deploying vulnerable nuclear weapons that would have to be used early or not at all in a conventional conflict, by developing systems—for example, the neutron bomb—that attempt to blur the line between conventional and nuclear weaponry, and by expressing a determination to defend U.S. allies with nuclear weapons. None of these efforts changes the basic nature of nuclear weapons. All of them, however, increase the risk of nuclear war and strain relations within the alliance.

The immediate step to take, therefore, is to re-examine the proper role of nuclear weapons and redirect efforts away from buttressing first-use policies and toward making a safe, stabilizing transition to a nuclear posture designed to deter nuclear use. Such a transition would have to be carefully planned but would certainly be less dangerous than attempting a transition from “threat deterrence” to “defense dominance,” as epitomized by the President’s Strategic Defense Initiative. There is evidence that a shift away from an over-reliance on nuclear weaponry is already under way. In Europe attention is focusing on efforts to improve the effectiveness of conventional forces and to “raise the nuclear threshold.”A growing awareness of the limitations of nuclear deterrence is also apparent within the Reagan Administration. In 1984 General John W. Vessey, Jr., then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed, “If we are sincere about avoiding an early nuclear decision or surrender, we should emphasize more reinforcement capability rather than less. Even if one views NATO’s current conventional posture as little more than an extended trip wire—and I do not—a major retrenchment in U.S. ground reinforcements for NATO would leave little recourse other than the nuclear alternative. That is a cure that is worse than the disease.”

While there is consensus on the need to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, there appears to be little consensus on how best to proceed. The approach suggested here is that when formulating its military plans and setting nuclear and conventional force requirements the United States should assume that it will never be in its interests or in the interests of its allies to initiate the use of nuclear weapons. More specifically, the United States and its allies might move toward a more durably credible defense posture in Europe, and elsewhere, by taking the following steps.

As an initial measure the Western alliance could adopt a policy of no early use. A no-early-use policy, when reflected in NATO force planning, would improve the effectiveness of existing conventional forces by increasing their flexibility and lightening the burden of nuclear-weapons safety and control procedures. Because such a policy would require NATO to pull back its vulnerable, forwardbased nuclear systems, it would both expedite the withdrawal of nuclear weapons agreed to by NATO in October of 1983 and facilitate further reduction in the number of nuclear weapons deployed among NATO forces in Europe. Those weapons that raise the most serious problems relating to release authority and early use—some short-range nuclear artillery, atomic demolition munitions, and nuclear air-defense systems—could all be rapidly withdrawn and their storage facilities secured against conventional and other forms of non-nuclear attack. The repositioning of battlefield and theater nuclear weapons well away from the NATO-Warsaw Pact border would ultimately allow the West to propose negotiations on a verifiable agreement establishing a carefully defined zone on both sides of the border in Europe, beginning in the central region, within which no nuclear munitions would be deployed.

As another interim measure NATO could halt any w7eapons-modernization programs, such as those to produce and deploy new generations of nuclear artillery shells, that are predicated on a strategy of early use of its nuclear arsenal. This would, among other things, avoid the damage to relations within the alliance which would certainly come from attempts to deploy such weapons in Europe. Elimination of dual-capable launchers is also desirable. Such launchers, particularly tactical aircraft, should be uncoupled from a nuclear role, and nuclear weapons should be sharply differentiated from conventional systems. Nuclear forces could be placed under a separate command and provided with separate alert procedures, as William W. Kaufmann has suggested.

A logical next step would be a policy of no early second use. This would enhance stability by requiring that the United States and its allies identify the location, source, and extent of any nuclear explosion before responding.

When it is ready, the alliance should declare its intention not to be the first to use nuclear weapons—that is, tactical or theater nuclear weapons—in Europe. The United States should make a similar declaration, or at the very least a declaration of no early use, with respect to American nuclear weapons deployed in other theaters. Although the fact is not widely understood, American policy in Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere contemplates the first use of nuclear weapons. The United States threatened or considered the use of nuclear weapons outside Europe on a number of occasions in the 1950s, when it was official U.S. policy to initiate the use of nuclear weapons in any large-scale conflict. More recently, in 1975, the Ford Administration made public the fact that the United States had stored nuclear weapons in Korea and had explicitly threatened to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary, to defend South Korea. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have both implied that the United States would use nuclear weapons, if necessary, to counter Soviet aggression in the Persian Gulf. Under a no-first-use policy the United States could scale down the number of nuclear weapons stockpiled outside the United States and Europe, or eliminate them altogether. Either measure would give the United States added leverage in pursuing nuclear arms control and nuclear nonproliferation.

We would argue, finally, that the United States should adopt a policy of no strategic first use—a commitment not to initiate the use of American strategic weapons based on the U.S. mainland or at sea. Declared American policy, with regard particularly to Soviet aggression in Europe, retains the option of launching a strategic strike against Soviet forces before the United States itself has been attacked and even before the Soviets have used nuclear weapons locally. The approach suggested here would move policy away from the initiation of any such attacks, whether on the battlefield or upon the Soviet homeland.

Adoption of a no-strategic-first-use policy would have profound consequences. It would mean, first, that there would be no rationale for deploying highly vulnerable systems—for example, the MX missile—that could not survive a first strike. Second, it would significantly alter targeting criteria and the forces needed to destroy those targets. Under an assumption of no strategic first use the United States would not require the capability to destroy large numbers of Soviet “hard” targets. Only a small number of hard targets could be usefully hit in a U.S. second strike. Because Soviet missiles in silos would be sitting ducks for such an attack, the Soviet Union, on warning of a U.S. retaliatory strike, would in all likelihood fire those missiles rather than allow them to be destroyed on the ground. Only a disarming first strike could possibly catch Soviet missiles in their silos. Thus, if the United States rules out the first use of nuclear weapons, there would be little purpose in targeting the majority of these silos.

Changes in targeting would reduce the requirements for systems designed to destroy hard targets. It would also make certain additional systems, such as the Trident D-5, unnecessary, since their main function is to supplement this capability. Finally, a no-strategic-first-use policy would permit an alteration of the criteria by which strategic-arms-control proposals are evaluated. It would reduce U.S. reluctance to trade away destabilizing systems for equivalent Soviet weapons. Current opposition to a total test ban, for example, is based on the need to retain and develop reliable weapons for a pre-emptive strike, as well as on the need to develop and refine tactical nuclear weapons.

Needless to say, a policy of no first use presupposes the abandonment of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Although we share the President’s hope for a diminished reliance on nuclear arms, we do not believe that his proposals will safely take us in that direction. The danger of the SDI is that it attempts to provide a technological, or “hardware,” solution to a fundamentally political problem; in the nuclear age there can be no security in the East or the West unless it is mutual security. The Strategic Defense Initiative threatens to erode allied unity, and confidence in American guarantees, by raising the prospect of a “decoupling” of Western Europe from the United States. At the same time, the SDI will consume billions of dollars that might be used to upgrade conventional capabilities. Moreover, if the Soviet reaction to the Strategic Defense Initiative is to build more nuclear weapons to overcome U.S. defenses, as the Department of Defense suggests that it may be, then the SDI will have been a step not toward a world without nuclear weapons but toward a world with more of them. These considerations aside, it is highly unlikely that the United States will be able to develop strategic defenses of any reliable effectiveness.

IT HAS LONG BEEN THE POLICY OF the United States to retain the option of initiating use of nuclear weapons to defend its security and that of its allies. Yet even today military planners are hard pressed to describe precisely how the first use of nuclear weapons would contribute to that security. That military planners have persisted in seeking sensible uses for nuclear weapons is, to some extent, understandable. Policy-makers have sought to harness the tremendous destructive power of nuclear weapons to strengthen U.S. security. With the firstuse policy, they have failed.

While nuclear weapons do not cost more money than conventional weapons, they are in many other ways more costly. A reliance on nuclear weapons to deter conventional aggression has diverted money and manpower from other areas, hampered the effectiveness of conventional forces, contributed to East-West antagonism, and weakened the unity of the alliance. First use has remained U.S. policy largely because its costs are intangible and indirect. That is so only as long as no war or crisis is in prospect. But once either is, the results could well be catastrophic for the United States and its allies. The alternative approach recommended here would increase U.S. and allied security by reducing the risk of nuclear war, increasing the U.S. capability to fight conventionally, and improving the prospects for arms control.