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Hiroshima for Global Peace

(5) Diminishing the Role and Significance of Nuclear Weapons in National Security Strategies and Policies

(5) Diminishing the Role and Significance of Nuclear Weapons in National Security Strategies and Policies

A) The current status of the roles and significance of nuclear weapons

In the latter half of the 2010s, as great power and geopolitical competitions have increased their intensity, nuclear-armed states have reaffirmed the role and significance of their nuclear weapons in national security, although it would not necessarily be judged that they have made significant revisions or changes in nuclear deterrence policies or doctrines.

In 2019, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff posted the “Joint Publication 3-72:
Nuclear Operations” on its website in June, but immediately deleted it.142 This document does not necessarily represent a major change in the U.S. nuclear strategy and policy. On the other hand, the following points written in the document raised concerns that the United States would aim to lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons or to include a nuclear war-fighting doctrine in its nuclear strategy.143
➢ “Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”(p. III-3)
➢ “Possibly the greatest and least understood challenge confronting the joint force in a nuclear conflict is how to operate in a post-[nuclear detonation (NUDET)] radiological environment. Knowledge of the special physical and physiological hazards, and psychological effects of the nuclear battlefield, along with guidance and training to counter these hazards and effects, greatly improves the ground forces ability to operate successfully.” (p. V-2)
➢ “The land component and special operations forces, supported by joint assets, must be capable of conducting all operations in a post-NUDET radiological environment.” (p. V-3)

The document cites a prediction made in the 1970s-80s by Herman Kahn: “My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained.” This citation might suggest that the United States contemplates an option to conduct small and limited use of nuclear weapons.

Russia has repeatedly made more direct nuclear threats since the mid-2010s. In his Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly in February 2019, President Putin stated: “[The tensions] are not a reason to ratchet up confrontation to the levels of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. In any case that’s not what we want…If someone wants that, well OK they are welcome. I have set out today what that would mean. Let them count [the missile flight times].” Regarding the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, he also said, “[W]e will be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions [if U.S. intermediaterange missiles are deployed in Europe]…Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from, but also in areas that contain decision-making centres for the missile systems threatening us.”144 In the meantime, Russia announced that it would launch totally 16 strategic missiles (14 missiles in 2017) as part of its major military exercise called “Grom-2019” in October 2019.145

In South Asia, in response to a suicide bombing in February 2019 on the Indian side of the Kashmir region, India conducted air strikes on the bases of Islamic extremist groups on the Pakistani side. During the crisis, India threatened to fire at least six missiles at Pakistan, and Islamabad said it would respond with its own missile strikes “three times over.”146

It alluded to a nuclear option.147 In a statement at the UNGA in September 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of the danger of escalating armed conflict in South Asia into nuclear war, saying, “When a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders. It will have consequences for the world.”148

In response to a sense of crisis that the possibility of nuclear weapon use would be increasing, at various venues, inter alia, the NPT PrepCom and the First Committee of the UNGA, NNWS have repeatedly urged nuclear-armed states to take measures to reduce nuclear risks as well as the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrine.

B) Commitment to no first use, “sole purpose,” and related doctrines

In 2019, no nuclear-armed state drastically changed or transformed its policies regarding no first use (NFU) or the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons.

Among the NWS, only China has highlighted a NFU policy, and reaffirmed this commitment, inter alia, in the White Paper on its national defense and at the NPT PrepCom in 2019. China also argued: “All nuclear-weapon states should commit to no-first-use of nuclear weapons unconditionally, and conclude international legal instruments in this regard.”149 However, the United States pointed out: “There is some ambiguity…in the narrative in China over the conditions under which China’s NFU policy would apply.”150

The NPR 2018 under the Trump administration stated: “The highest U.S. nuclear policy and strategy priority is to deter potential adversaries from nuclear attack of any scale. However, deterring nuclear attack is not the sole purpose of nuclear weapons…The United States would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners. Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks. Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”151 On the other hand, some congressional Democrats proposed legislations on NFU or prohibition of first use of nuclear weapons without Congress’s authorization. For instance, in January, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Adam Smith introduced legislation (S.272/H.R.921) that declared, “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.”152 However, that legislation has not been adopted, facing a strong criticism that such policies are too naïve in this current complicated international security environment, and may send a dangerous signal to adversaries as well as allies that the U.S. determination regarding deterrence is faltering.153

As for the other nuclear-armed states, India maintains a NFU policy despite reserving an option of nuclear retaliation vis-à-vis a major biological or chemical attack against it. On the other hand, in August 2019, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh stated, “India has strictly adhered to this doctrine [of NFU]. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”154 Meanwhile, Pakistan, which has developed short-range nuclear weapons to counter the “Cold Start doctrine” adopted by the Indian Army,155 does not exclude the possibility of using nuclear weapons first against an opponent’s conventional attack.

C) Negative security assurances

No NWS significantly changed its negative security assurance (NSA) policy in 2019: China is the only NWS that has declared an unconditional NSA for NNWS; other NWS add some conditionality to their NSA policies. The United Kingdom and the United States declared they would not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against NNWS that are parties to the NPT and in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations. The U.K.’s additional condition is that: “while there is currently no direct threat to the United Kingdom or its vital interests from States developing capabilities in other weapons of mass destruction, for example chemical and biological, we reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat, development and proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”156 The United States in its NPR 2018 clarifies: “Given the potential of significant non-nuclear strategic attacks, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of nonnuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.”157

In 2015, France slightly modified its NSA commitment, which is that: “France will not use nuclear weapons against states not armed with them that are signatories of the NPT and that respect their international obligations for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”111 The condition it added in 2015 was that its commitment does not “affect the right to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”158 Russia maintains the unilateral NSA under which it will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the NNWS parties to the NPT unless it or its allies are invaded or attacked by a NNWS in cooperation with a NWS.

Except under protocols to the nuclearweapon-free zone (NWFZ) treaties, NWS have not provided legally-binding NSAs. At various fora, including the NPT review process, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the UNGA, NNWS, mainly the NAM states, urged NWS to provide legally-binding security assurances.159 Among NWS, only China argues that the international community should negotiate and conclude at an early date an international legal instrument on providing unconditional NSAs.160 Meanwhile, France stated that it “considers [the] commitment [on security assurances in its statement in April 1995] legally binding, and has so stated.”161

As written in the previous Hiroshima Reports, while one of the purposes of the NSAs provided by NWS to NNWS is to alleviate the imbalance of rights and obligations between NWS and NNWS under the NPT, India, Pakistan and North Korea also offered NSAs to NNWS. India declared that it would not use nuclear weapons against NNWS, except “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.” Pakistan has declared an unconditional NSA. In addition, North Korea has stated an NSA vis-à-vis NNWS so long as they do not join nuclear weapons states in invading or attacking it.

D) Signing and ratifying the protocols of the treaties on nuclear-weaponfree zones

The protocols to the NWFZ treaties include the provision of legally-binding NSAs. At the time of writing, only the Protocol of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Treaty of Tlatelolco) has been ratified by all NWS, as shown in Table 1-6 below. No new progress regarding additional ratifications by NWS has been made in 2019. Among others, as for the Protocol to the Southeast Asian NWFZ Treaty, the five NWS have continued consultation with the state parties to the Treaty to resolve their remaining differences, but they have yet to sign the Protocol.162 At the NPT PrepCom and other forums, its states parties urged NWS to sign and ratify the protocol.

Some NWS have stated reservations or added interpretations to the protocols of the NWFZ treaties when signing or ratifying them. NAM and NAC have called for the withdrawal of any related reservations or unilateral interpretative declarations that are incompatible with the object and purpose of such treaties.163 In addition, in the UNGA resolution titled “Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean,” proposed by states parties to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, states parties to Additional Protocols I and II to the treaty were encouraged to review their interpretative declarations.164 However, it seems unlikely that any of the NWS except China will accept such a request.

E) Relying on extended nuclear deterrence

The United States and its allies, including NATO countries, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have maintained their respective policies on extended nuclear deterrence. No significant change in their related policies was found in 2019. Currently, the United States deploys approximately 150 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs in five NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey165), and thus maintains nuclear sharing arrangements with them. NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group also supports the U.S. extended nuclear deterrence. While no U.S. nuclear weapon is deployed outside of American territory, except in the European NATO countries mentioned above, the United States has established consultative mechanisms on extended deterrence with Japan (Extended Deterrence Dialogue) and South Korea (Extended Deterrence Policy Committee). In addition, it is pointed out that that the Pine Gap intelligence facility in Australia has played a vital role in the U.S. nuclear targeting166

On the matter of the NATO nuclear sharing arrangements, especially the U.S. deployment of its tactical nuclear weapons in five NATO countries, some NNWS criticize this situation as a clear violation of non-proliferation obligations under Article I of the NPT by those transferor NWS and under Article II by those recipient NNWS. At the 2019 NPT PrepCom, Russia also argued that the nuclear sharing arrangement violates the NPT, and stated, “the other [NWS] should withdraw nuclear weapons to their territories, eliminate any infrastructure in place outside their borders that enables the rapid deployment of such weapons, and discontinue preparations for such deployment that involve non-nuclearweapon States.”167 In addition, China stated: “Relevant [NWS] should put an end to the policy and practice of nuclear umbrella and nuclear sharing, and withdraw all nuclear weapons that are deployed in other countries.”168

142 Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Joint Publication 3-72: Nuclear Operations,” June 11, 2019.

143 See, for instance, Masakatsu Ota, “Nuclear Strategy under the Trump Administration,” Sekai, pp. 153- 160 (in Japanese); Julian Borger, “Nuclear Weapons: Experts Alarmed by New Pentagon ‘War-Fighting’ Doctrine,” Guardian, June 19, 2019,

144 Vladimir Putin, “Presidential Address to Federal Assembly,” February 20, 2019,

145 “Nuclear Deterrence Ready: Putin Presides over Mega Missile Exercise Involving Submarines, Bombers & Ground Launchers,” RT, October 17, 2019,

146 Sanjeev Miglani, Drazen Jorgic, “India, Pakistan Threatened to Unleash Missiles at Each Other: Source,” Reuters, March 17, 2019, to-unleash-missiles-at-each-other-sources-idUSKCN1QY03T.

147 Rahul Bedi, “Pakistan Vows to Respond to India Air Strike at ‘Time of Its Choosing,’” Irish Times, February 26, 2019,

148 “Pakistan’s Khan Warns of All-Out Conflict Amid Rising Tensions over Kashmir; Demands India Lift ‘Inhuman’ Curfew,” UN News, September 27, 2019,

149 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP40, April 26, 2019.

150 U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019, pp. 65-67.

151 NPR 2018, pp. 20-21. Although not stated in the NPR, non-nuclear strategic attacks are considered to be caused by bio-chemical, conventional attacks, and even cyber attacks. On the other hand, the United States has not excluded a possibility of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear attacks.

152 Joe Gould, “Warren, Smith Introduce Bill to Bar US from Using Nuclear Weapons First,” Defense News, January 30, 2019,

153 See, for instance, Rebecca Kheel, “Warren’s Pledge to Avoid First Nuclear Strike Sparks Intense Pushback,” Hill, August 4, 2019,

154 Sanjeev Miglani, “India Says Committed to ‘No First Use’ of Nuclear Weapons for Now,” Reuters, August 16, 2019,

155 “Short-Range Nuclear Weapons to Counter India’s Cold Start Doctrine: Pakistan PM,” Live Mint, September 21, 2017,

156 NPT/CONF.2015/29, April 22, 2015.

157 NPR 2018, p. 21.

158 NPT/CONF.2015/10, March 12, 2015.

159 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP15, March 21, 2019.

160 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP36, April 26, 2019.

161 NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/14, April 25, 2014.

162 As mentioned in the Hiroshima Report 2016, both ASEAN member states and NWS implied that they continued consultations over possible reservations by NWS.

163 See, for instance, NPT/CONF.2018/WP.19, March 23, 2018.

164 A/RES/74/27, December 12, 2019. The resolution was adopted without voting.

165 Some argue that the United States should remove its nuclear weapons deployed in Turkey as the U.S.-Turkey relations deteriorate due to the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system and the military attack on Kurds by Turkey. See, for instance, John Krzyzaniak, “Getting the Nukes out of Turkey: A How-to Guide,” Bulletin of Atomic Science, October 17, 2019, of-turkey-a-how-to-guide/; Steven Pifer, “It’s Time to Get US Nukes out of Turkey,” Brooking, November 5, 2019, out-of-turkey/.

166 “Pine Gap—An Introduction,” Nautilus Institute, February 21, 2016,

167 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP6, March 15, 2019.

168 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP40, April 26, 2019.

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