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Hiroshima for Global Peace

(5) Diminishing the Roles 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 in intensity, nuclear-armed states have reaffirmed the role and significance of their nuclear weapons in national security.

In 2020, France and Russia made public their respective nuclear policies.

In February, French President Macron gave a speech on national defense policies, including nuclear policy. He stated, “Should the leader of any State underestimate France’s deep-rooted attachment to its freedom and consider threatening our vital interests, whatever they may be, that leader must realize that our nuclear forces are capable of inflicting absolutely unacceptable damages upon that State’s centres of power. … Should there be any misunderstanding about France’s determination to protect its vital interests, a unique and one-time-only nuclear warning could be issued to the aggressor State to clearly demonstrate that the nature of the conflict has changed and to re-establish deterrence.”138

Russia released its “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” in June. In this document, Russia stated that it “considers nuclear weapons exclusively as a means of deterrence, their use being an extreme and compelled measure.” The document also made it clear that Russia’s deterrence “is aimed at maintaining the nuclear forces potential at the level sufficient for nuclear deterrence, and guarantees protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State, and deterrence of a potential adversary from aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies. In the event of a military conflict, this Policy provides for the prevention of an escalation of military actions and their termination on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation and/or its allies.” In addition, it listed “[t]he conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation as follows”:139

a) arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

b) use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

c) attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;

d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.

In 2020, as the security environment became more fluid, including intensified great power competition, demonstrative acts employing nuclear deterrent continued to be repeated.

For instance, in May and June 2020, the United States flew B-1B, B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers over the Arctic Ocean, through Ukrainian airspace, and over the Baltic Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk on multiple occasions as a demonstration against Russia.140 In February, the United States conducted a tabletop exercise, based upon a scenario that Russia used low-yield, limited nuclear weapons against a site on NATO territory, causing the United States to respond with nuclear weapons.141

On the other hand, Russia also demonstrated its nuclear deterrent capability to the United States and its allies by flying Tu-160 strategic bombers over the Atlantic near Scotland and France, and Tu-95 bombers near Alaska.142

In the meantime, China fired a total of four DF-21D and DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) from the Chinese mainland into the South China Sea on August 26, amid a fluid situation over Hong Kong and Taiwan and intensification of the U.S.-China competition. In November, a Chinese military expert reportedly said in a closed-door meeting that missiles hit a target vessel sailing south of the Paracel Islands.”143 Furthermore, two Russian Tu-95 bombers and four Chinese H6-K bombers carried out the second joint patrol mission over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea in December.144

In response to a sense of crisis over a perceived increase in the possibility of nuclear weapon use, NNWS at various venues, including the NPT PrepCom and the UNGA First Committee, have repeatedly urged nuclear-armed states to take measures to reduce nuclear risks as well as the role of nuclear weapons in their military doctrines.

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

In 2020, no nuclear-armed state changed or transformed its policy regarding no first use (NFU) or the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons.

Among the NWS, only China has declared an NFU policy, and reaffirmed this commitment in 2020. 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.”145 However, the United States argued: “There is some ambiguity…in the narrative in China over the conditions under which China’s NFU policy would no longer apply.”146

As for the other nuclear-armed states, India maintains an NFU policy despite reserving an option of nuclear retaliation vis-à-vis a major biological or chemical attack against it. Meanwhile, Pakistan, which has developed short-range nuclear weapons to counter the “Cold Start doctrine” adopted by the Indian Army,147 does not exclude the possibility of using nuclear weapons first against an opponent’s conventional attack.

North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un strongly implied that the possibility of its first use of nuclear weapons is not ruled out, by stating in October, “Our war deterrent, which is intended to defend the rights to independence and existence of our state and safeguard peace in the region, will never be abused or used as a means for preemptive strike. But, if, and if, any forces infringe upon the security of our state and attempt to have recourse to military force against us, I will enlist all our most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them.”148

C) Negative security assurances

No NWS significantly changed its negative security assurance (NSA) policy in 2020. China is the only NWS that has declared an unconditional NSA for NNWS, while 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.”149 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.”150

In 2015, France slightly modified its NSA commitment, which stated 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.”151 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.”152 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 nuclear-weapon-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 First Committee, NNWS, mainly the NAM states, urged NWS to provide legally-binding security assurances.153 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.154

Meanwhile, France stated that it “considers [the] commitment [on security assurances in its statement in April 1995] legally binding, and has so stated.”155

At the 2020 UNGA, a resolution titled “Conclusion of effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons”156 was adopted. The voting behavior of countries surveyed in this project on this resolution is as follows:

➢ Proposing: Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and others
➢ 125 in favor (Brazil, China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the UAE and others); 0 against; 62 abstentions (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and others)—Chile did not vote

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, with the exception that “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-weapon-free 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 2020. 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.157 At the NPT PrepCom and other forums, its states parties have 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.158 In addition, in the 2019 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.159 However, it seems unlikely that any of the NWS except China will accept such a request. At the 2020 UNGA First Committee, the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) reported: “France and [Russia] have responded to our proposal of Adjustement [sic], albeit in a flat negative fashion. The United Kingdom has not even accepted to receive…our proposal. The United States of America has not provided any response.”160

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.161 No significant change in their related policies was found in 2020. Currently, the United States deploys approximately 150 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs in five NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey162), and thus maintains nuclear sharing arrangements with them. NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group also supports the U.S. extended nuclear deterrence.

In April 2020, the German Defense Ministry announced its plan to purchase 45 F/A-18E fighters (30 of which are for nuclear missions), along with up to 93 Eurofighters to replace the Tornado fighters which are scheduled to cease operations in 2030. Although the debate on the issue of nuclear sharing issue has resurfaced in Germany, the government maintains that it will continue to engage in this mission.163

While no U.S. nuclear weapon is deployed outside of American territory, except in the 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 U.S. nuclear targeting.164

On the matter of 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 transfer or 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-nuclear-weapon States.”165 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.”166

With regard to extended nuclear deterrence, a statement by French President Macron made in February 2020 attracted attention. He said, “[O]ur nuclear forces have a deterrent effect in themselves, particularly in Europe. They strengthen the security of Europe through their very existence and they have, in this sense, a truly European dimension. On that point, our independent decision-making is fully compatible with our unwavering solidarity with our European partners.” He further stated, “In this spirit, I would like strategic dialogue to develop with our European partners, which are ready for it, on the role played by France’s nuclear deterrence in our collective security. European partners which are willing to walk that road can be associated with the exercises of French deterrence forces.”167 However, reactions of other NATO countries were mostly negative. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also strongly suggested that he did not consider a provision of French nuclear deterrent to NATO allies necessary, stating, “We have to remember that we have a European nuclear deterrent today—28 allies deliver that every day and it’s not only a promise, but it’s something that has been there for decades. …It’s tried and tested, we exercise it, and it’s institutionalized, and it is the ultimate security guarantee for Europe.”168

138 “Speech of the President of the Republic on the Defense and Deterrence Strategy,” February 7, 2020,
139 The President of the Russian Federation, “Executive Order on Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” June 8, 2020,
140 Michael Klare, “U.S., Russia Boost Shows of Force,” Arms Control Today, Vol. 50, No. 6 (July/August 2020), p. 43.
141 Marcus Weisgerber, “Esper Plays Nuclear War: Russia Nukes Europe, US Fires Back,” Defense One, February 21, 2020,
142 Klare, “U.S., Russia Boost Shows of Force,” p. 43.
143 Kristin Huang, “China’s ‘Aircraft-Carrier Killer’ Missiles Successfully Hit Target Ship in South China Sea, PLA Insider Reveals,” South China Morning Post, November 14, 2020, https://www.scmp. com/news/china/military/article/3109809/chinas-aircraft-carrier-killer-missiles-successfully-hit-target.
144 “Russian and Chinese Bombers Fly Joint Patrol over Pacific,” Associated Press, December 22, 2020,
145 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP40, April 26, 2019.
146 The U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020, p. 86.
147 “Short-Range Nuclear Weapons to Counter India’s Cold Start Doctrine: Pakistan PM,” Live Mint, September 21, 2017,
148 “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Delivers Speech at Military Parade,” KCNA, October 10, 2020,
149 NPT/CONF.2015/29, April 22, 2015.
150 NPR 2018, p. 21.
151 NPT/CONF.2015/10, March 12, 2015.
152 Ibid.
153 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP15, March 21, 2019.
154 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP36, April 26, 2019.
155 NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/14, April 25, 2014.
156 A/RES/75/34, December 7, 2020.
157 As mentioned in the Hiroshima Report 2016, both ASEAN member states and NWS implied that they continued consultations over possible reservations by NWS.
158 See, for instance, NPT/CONF.2018/WP.19, March 23, 2018.
159 A/RES/74/27, December 12, 2019. The resolution was adopted without voting.
160 “Statement by the Secretary General of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean,” UNGA First Committee, October 19, 2020.
161 According to the following report, in addition to those countries, Armenia and Belarus are also provided with extended nuclear deterrence by Russia with whom they are allied. Norwegian People’s Aid, Nuclear Weapon Ban Monitor 2020 (Norwegian People’s Aid, 2021), p. 50.
162 In 2019, some argued that the United States should remove its nuclear weapons deployed in Turkey as 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,; Steven Pifer, “It’s Time to Get US Nukes out of Turkey,” Brooking, November 5, 2019,
163 “Germany Underscores Commitment to US Nuclear Deterrence,” DW, May 4, 2020,
164 “Pine Gap—An Introduction,” Nautilus Institute, February 21, 2016,
165 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP6, March 15, 2019.
166 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP40, April 26, 2019.
167 “Speech of the President of the Republic on the Defense and Deterrence Strategy,” February 7, 2020,
168 “NATO Chief Rejects Macron Call to Put French Nukes at Center of European Strategy,” RFE/RL, February 16, 2020,

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