Is There a Role for Nuclear Weapons Today?

August 1, 2005
John Holdren

Arms Control Today

My colleagues and I from the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control concluded, in a study issued in 1997, that the only remaining, defensible function of U.S. nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era is "core deterrence" using the threat of retaliation to deter other countries that possess nuclear weapons from using them to attack or coerce the United States or its allies.

If the only function of nuclear weapons is to deter other countries that possess them from using theirs, there is no reason not to declare and to intend to observe a policy of "no first use" of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Further, there is no need for nuclear forces with the size, diversity, and high alert status of those built up by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, nor any need to continue to develop and test nuclear weapons of new types for new purposes.

We strongly recommended that the United States announce that it will never use nuclear weapons to respond to or pre-empt conventional, chemical, or biological attacks and that it undertake, in consultation with its allies and in concert with Russia, a sweeping transformation of its nuclear forces, practices, and policies consistent with this reduction in nuclear weapons' intended role.

Read the full article on the Arms Control Today website.

John Holdren is Teresa and John Heinz professor of environmental policy and director of the Kennedy School's Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. He is also director of the Woods Hole Research Center.

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