U.S. No-First Use campaign builds momentum with support from legislators at federal, state and city levels

Resolutions promoting a No-First-Use policy for nuclear weapons are adopted in California State Legislature, Baltimore City Council, Los Angeles City and U.S. Conference of Mayors.

These support initiatives in US Congress introduced by Senator Markey and Reps Lieu and Smith.

United States legislators at federal, state and city level are joining peace and disarmament organisations around the United States in a growing campaign to promote a U.S. No-First-Use policy.

First use nuclear doctrines

Currently the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Pakistan have policies to use nuclear weapons in a military conflict even if nuclear weapons have not been fired against them. Their nuclear deterrence policies include the threat to use nuclear weapons in a wide range of circumstances including to respond to threats from other weapons of mass destruction and to deter a conventional attack.

In addition, the US and Russia keep over a thousand nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to be fired within minutes, in order to be operationally able to launch a first strike at any time, or to launch a ‘retaliatory attack’ upon warning of a nuclear attack.

This first-use policy is not only incredibly risky - providing a possibility that nuclear weapons could be used by accident or miscalculation - but also prevents nuclear disarmament.

As long as the role of nuclear weapons goes beyond just deterring other nuclear weapons, then nuclear weapons possessors will never give them up. If however, they agree that nuclear weapons are only to deter other nuclear weapons, then nuclear disarmament can be agreed. The main conditions for nuclear disarmament would then be the development of mechanisms to verify and ensure compliance by all nuclear-armed states with a nuclear disarmament process.

As such, the adoption of No-First Use policies would not only reduce the risk of nuclear war, it would also pave the way for comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreements.

Initiatives in the U.S. Congress

PNND Co-President Senator Markey, sponsor of the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017

In January 2017, Senator Markey and Representative Lieu introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 which would prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. Although it would not prohibit first-use entirely, Senator Markey, who serves as Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), is clear that the intention of the legislation is to pave the way for a No-First-Use policy. In introducing the legislation, Senator Markey said ‘Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack.’

US disarmament and arms control campaigners have campaigned in support of the draft legislation, and have succeeded in moving 13 senators and 81 Representatives to endorse (See Senate version and House version).

In November 2017, Congressman Adam Smith introduced House Resolution 4415, which would provide a clear and unequivocal prohibition against the first use of nuclear weapons. So far, congressional support for this resolution is low.

U.S. peace and disarmament organisations have therefore started building support for a clear No-First Use policy through a series of city and state resolutions. The resolutions also support de-alerting, establishing congressional control over the President’s authority to use nuclear weapons, and advancing comprehensive nuclear disarmament.

City and State initiatives

On May 21, 2018, the City of Amherst (MA) unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the United States to 'lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.' The resolution had been proposed by members of the new US Back from the Brink campaign.

Yasuyoshi Komizo, Secretary-General of Mayors for Peace, with Frank Cownie, Mayor of Des Moines and sponsor of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Resolution on Preventing Nuclear War.

On June 11, 2018 the campaign received a huge boost with the adoption by the US Conference of Mayors of a resolution Calling on the Administration and Congress to Step Back from the Brink and Exercise Global Leadership in Preventing Nuclear War. The resolution, which was introduced by Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie (Vice-President of Mayors for Peace) echoed the calls from the Amherst City resolution, promoting no-first use, de-alerting, cancelling plans for nuclear weapons modernisation and supporting the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

Since then there have been resolutions adopted by the City of Baltimore, Los Angeles City and the State Assembly of California. Each of these resolutions call ‘upon our federal leaders and our nation to spearhead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first, ending the President’s sole, unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack, taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons, and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.’

California is leading the way toward a safer, more sane United States nuclear policy’, said Nancy Parrish, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), following the adoption of the resolution in the Californian State Assembly. ‘Americans are terrified that in a moment of unhinged anger, our President can launch a nuclear weapon, and not a single person can stop him. By passing this resolution California is sending a strong message to Congress: revoke the President’s sole authority to start a nuclear war.’ (See BREAKING: California Passes First State Resolution Calling on Restrictions of President’s ‘First Use’ of Nuclear Weapons).

PNND Council Member State Senator Nan Orrock, sponsor of the resolution in the Georgia State Legislature on nuclear risk reduction, and an endorser of the Legislators' Peace Pledge.

State legislators have introduced similar legislation, yet to be voted upon, in another six US state legislatures. These include in Georgia [SR 897] introduced by Senator Nan Orrock who is a PNND Council Member and a leading member of WAND, Iowa introduced by Rep. Marti Anderson, Illinois [HR0877] introduced by Rep. Carol Ammons, Massachusetts [SD.2488] introduced by Senator Barbara L’Italien, Maryland [HJ12] introduced by Delegate Pamela Queen and Vermont [JRH.12] introduced by Rep. Mary Sullivan.  

The State Assembly resolutions are being promoted by a number of peace and disarmament organisations/networks including WAND, Beyond the Bomb, Back from the Brink and the Abolition 2000 working group on nuclear risk reduction.  

Legislators' Peace Pledge

The resolutions are also complemented by a Legislator’s Peace Pledge which is open for candidates for the November U.S. elections. It opposes any use of nuclear weapons and commits endorsers to refuse any campaign donations from military contractors or fossil fuel corporations. So far this has been endorsed by 56 election candidates.