US should announce ‘no first use of nuclear weapons,’ with no strings attached: Global Times editorial
Published: Oct 31, 2021 11:02 PM
US nuclear stockpile Illustration: Liu Rui/Global Times

US nuclear stockpile Illustration: Liu Rui/Global Times

The US plans to finalize the Nuclear Posture Review as soon as the end of this year. It is reported that the Biden administration is discussing whether it should put some limits on the use of nuclear weapons, such as the announcement of "no first use of nuclear weapons," or a declaration of "sole purpose" that means nuclear weapons can be used under certain circumstances, including responding to a nuclear attack.

According to media reports, US allies, including the UK, Germany, France, Japan and Australia, have strongly opposed the US' adjustment to its nuclear policies. They believe such a move will weaken the US' protection of its allies. This possible adjustment also means the US would offer a courtesy to China and Russia.

It has long been discussed whether the US should put limits on its use of nuclear weapons. The US was about to nail the adjustment during former president Barack Obama's tenure. The Obama administration considered adopting a "no first use" pledge and laid out a vision for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama's plan was soon abandoned after being rejected by US allies including Japan.

When Donald Trump was in the Oval Office, the US accelerated the modernization of its nuclear arsenal. The Trump administration's fiscal 2018 budget included $60-90 billion for nuclear weapons programs. Now it's the turn of the Democratic administration led by Biden to control the nuclear button, and it is completely possible that it thinks about reducing the nuclear risks in the world. If Biden can really take the step to announce "no first use" of nuclear weapons or take pragmatic measures to restrain US nuclear policies, the move will be widely welcomed across the globe.

However, Biden obviously continued with the strategy of enhancing major power competition adopted by the Trump administration. Great power relations nowadays are much tenser than during the Obama administration. Biden stresses coordinated action with its allies and fierce competition with China and Russia. It is highly doubtful whether Biden has the courage to take real steps in restricting the use of nuclear weapons.

The reactions from the US' allies, as reported by the media, are pretty much disappointing. In particular, countries like Japan which once suffered from nuclear strikes oppose restricting the use of nuclear weapons. The anti-nuclear doctrine the US allies have advocated is entirely deceitful. On the contrary, what they pursue is unilateral nuclear security. They want to expand their own right to use nuclear power, but have tried every possible means to squeeze the right of the others to use nuclear power.

China has announced the "no first use" nuclear policy at a very early phase. It has adhered to this policy since the first day it owned nuclear weapons. US allies should think this way: If China walks away from this policy, how much pressure will it add to regional security? Similarly, if the US, as the world's No.1 military power, announced restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons, it will without doubt create constructive opportunities to global security, with advantages outweighing disadvantages.

Nuclear posture is the thorniest security dilemma - particularly issues such as the number of nuclear warheads and anti-missiles. If the US can take the lead in restricting the use of nuclear weapons in this era, it is likely to expand the route undertaken by China in the past and push forward a new period of nuclear security. US allies such as Japan and Australia are falling into the trap of their own petty calculations, but they will not feel more secure if the US does not try to make the commitment of restricting the use of nuclear weapons.

A group of former US officials and experts, including former secretary of defense William Perry, wrote a letter to then Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga and other Japanese leaders of political parties, asking them not to oppose a "no first use" nuclear stance that may be announced by the US. Those former officials certainly did not make their appeals from the stance of China and Russia. Their considerations on nuclear security deserve comprehension from the Western world, rather than a fundamental rejection.

China has no way to influence whether the US will eventually head toward the direction of restricting the use of nuclear weapons. Even if the US does that, it will highly unlikely remain to be a unilateral decision. The US will likely require China, Russia and other countries to meet some of its demands. That being the case, it is possible that it will constitute new pressure on China.

China still has to do its own things well and strengthen its own nuclear deterrence capabilities. China is the only nuclear power that has declared it will not use nuclear weapons first. The development of second-strike capability is particularly important. China's morality in its nuclear policy has always been adequate. Those countries and forces that oppose US restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons are simply not qualified to point fingers at China's nuclear policy. Their moral coordinates are wrong.