As the Biden administration crafts its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the document laying out the administration’s proposed nuclear weapons doctrine, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today released new analysis that finds Japan would accept a U.S. policy to never use nuclear weapons first. The analysis makes the case for including a “no first use” policy in the forthcoming NPR.
Japan is part of a group of non-nuclear countries under the so-called U.S. nuclear “umbrella.” If any of the countries were attacked with nuclear weapons, the United States has pledged to retaliate. Japan would still have that guarantee under a U.S. no first use policy, which would declare that the U.S. would never be the first nation to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.
Although many U.S. officials and experts worry Japan might respond to a U.S. no first use declaration by withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and developing its own nuclear weapons, UCS found that there is virtually no chance Japan would make that decision.
“The Japanese government has carefully considered developing nuclear weapons in the past and found it was not in their national interest,” said Gregory Kulacki, UCS China project manager and a co-author of the report. “As the only country to have experienced wartime use of a nuclear weapon, the Japanese public has a deep understanding of the danger of nuclear war, the immorality of nuclear weapons, and a strong opposition to their development.”
President Biden has said he supports a no first use policy and promised U.S. voters his administration would consider it a priority when conducting its nuclear policy and defense reviews. In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) reintroduced legislation that would prohibit any U.S. president from launching nuclear weapons in a first strike.
“A no first use policy by the United States would maintain extended nuclear deterrence, while decreasing the chances that such action would ever be necessary by strengthening non-nuclear norms and significantly lowering the risk of accidental nuclear war,” said Kulacki.
Nuclear powers including China and India have already adopted no first use policies. The U.S. has pledged that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states under any circumstances as part of nuclear nonproliferation efforts.