What Gov. Bullock Should Know About No First Use

By Abigail Stowe-Thurston, Program Coordinator

As Wednesday’s debate began to wind down around 10 p.m., a lively discussion of U.S. nuclear weapons policy ramped up onstage.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, the sponsor of legislation that would make it the policy of the United States not to use nuclear weapons first, explained that a No First Use policy will make the world safer. “The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively, and we need to say so to the entire world.”

Governor of Montana Steve Bullock replied that he “…wouldn’t want to take that [first use of nuclear weapons] off the table.”

Bullock’s use of the made-up term “de-proliferation” was one tip that he may not have a very deep understanding of nuclear weapons policy, but “non-proliferation” is legitimately really difficult to pronounce. (In fairness, even though Montana is home to ballistic missile silos, nuclear policy is not something many governors deal with.) More troubling is Bullock’s myopic focus on America’s “strength.” He said the word three times in approximately 30 seconds.

Bullock’s response implied a simplistic interpretation of the concept of strength based on military might. But even if we limit ourselves to the military context and agree to ignore America’s diplomatic, economic, and cultural strengths along with Governor Bullock, in addition to one of the most advanced nuclear arsenals in the world, the U.S. military possesses a diverse array of conventional capabilities. The United States spends more on its military than every other country, invests in emerging technologies, and maintains conventional forces that project power globally.

The U.S. military is capable of deterring or defending against non-nuclear attacks against itself or its allies with conventional forces. Maintaining a policy that keeps the first use of nuclear weapons on the table doesn’t make us safer. We should adopt No First Use policy because the United States is strong.

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