Kyle Ann Sebastian
A letter signed by 35 members of Congress and 39 members of the Japanese Diet was sent to President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida calling on both leaders to support a declaration that the United States would never be the first nation to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.
The letter is a product of collaboration between the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and the Progressive Caucus of Japan (PCJ) and encourages both governments to clarify that they do not support the first use of nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances. Signatories include CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Senators Sanders (D-Vt.) and Warren (D-Mass.), Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) and Diet House of Representatives member and PCJ chair Masaharu Nakagawa.
While tensions between nuclear-armed states are at heights not seen since the Cold War, a U.S. no-first-use declaration would reduce the risk of nuclear escalation by removing the pressure for an adversary to act first to prevent a preemptive strike by U.S. nuclear forces. Slowing the timeline in a crisis allows decision-makers more time to explore other solutions. A no-first-use declaration would also reduce the risk of miscalculation or miscommunication leading to an accidental nuclear launch, for example an adversary misinterpreting a signal as a U.S. nuclear attack.
A U.S. no first use declaration, supported by Japan, could breathe new life into international arms control efforts, according to the letter signatories.
Neither U.S. nor Japanese officials have identified any scenario in which the first use of U.S. nuclear weapons would be necessary or desirable. A no-first-use declaration for U.S. nuclear weapons is already the de-facto policy of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found the Japanese government would accept a U.S. no-first-use declaration and is unlikely to develop its own nuclear weapons in response. Japan is part of a group of non-nuclear countries covered by the U.S. nuclear “umbrella.” If any of the countries were attacked with nuclear weapons, the United States has pledged to retaliate—an assurance that would remain even with a no-first-use declaration.
Biden has previously expressed his support for a no-first-use declaration. His administration has reportedly finished the classified version of its Nuclear Posture Review, but the public version has not been released. Regardless, the president could still make this declaration at any time.
The growing relationship between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Japanese Progressive Caucus, a cross-party bloc within the Japanese Diet formed in 2020, aims to increase legislative input into decisions about U.S. military presence in Japan and nuclear weapons.