The chess pieces seem set for the next decade to give rise to the return of great power competition along multiple axes. In this decade, though, the US may no longer be able to expect universal, overwhelming conventional dominance. Amidst this return to great power politics, the proposal for the US to declare that it will not use nuclear weapons first has resurfaced. The most recent proponents cite the need for US moral and diplomatic leadership. Opponents interject that such a pledge would undermine allies' confidence in US extended deterrence guarantees, potentially driving states to proliferate. This article examines additional dynamics affected by a no-first-use (NFU) declaration: US credibility and crisis stability. This article first outlines the two previous waves of debate on NFU. It then revisits three nuclear conflict scenarios recently explored by experts within the US defense strategy community. The first, between NATO and Russia, in a fait accompli strike against the Baltics; the second, a US response to China's attempt to forcibly annex Taiwan; and, the third, US options toward North Korea after a provocative strike that escalates. We use these vignettes as examples to assess whether it is credible to posit that the US would use nuclear weapons first in any one of these conflict scenarios. Building on this analysis, we then situate this policy within realist theory, examining what defensive and offensive realism argue in terms of what produces deterrence and how. Adopting such a policy should not be taken lightly. The potential consequences must be robustly explored to determine how the approach impacts US credibility to defend itself, its allies, and how it might impact overall stability.


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pp. 43-55
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