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Allies Object to U.S. “No First Use” Nuclear Pledge, Fearing It Will Undermine Deterrence

As President Barack Obama’s term in office comes to an end, a number of allies are expressing concern that he will publicly pledge that the United States would never be first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict, Josh Rogin of The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Japan, South Korea, France, and Britain have “all privately communicated their concerns” about what would be “a landmark change in America’s nuclear posture,” Rogin reported.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who relayed his nation’s concerns in a conversation with U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr., is particularly worried that an American pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons will reduce deterrence of rogue nuclear states like North Korea and increase the possibility of conflict.

European allies have an additional concern:

They don’t want any daylight between their nuclear policies and those of the United States, especially since Britain, France and the United States all are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. In the case of an emergency, those differences could cause real coordination problems.

Former Obama administration State Department official Joel Rubin explained the allies’ concerns, “While the goal of a ‘no first use’ policy is correct — to never be the first country to launch a cataclysmic nuclear strike — doing so unilaterally could run the risk of weakening our allies’ confidence in our security guarantees. This would not be in our interest.”

Allies, especially those living under the United States’ nuclear umbrella, are frustrated that they weren’t consulted about any possible changes in America’s nuclear doctrine, Rogin reported. But an administration official told Rogin that the allies’ concerns were being to taken into account, and that an official “no first use” declaration was falling out of favor as a means to advance the president’s nuclear non-proliferation aspirations.

Obama is looking to work towards his goal of global nuclear disarmament expressed in a speech delivered in Prague in April 2009 “while maintaining a credible deterrent for the United States, our allies and partners,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told the Post.

[Photo: IIP Photo Archive / Flickr ]