Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that President Obama may decide to make a fundamental change to US nuclear policy, by issuing a formal declaration that the US would never be first to use nuclear weapons. The report triggered alarm in Japan and South Korea. We have more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Asahi Shimbun quoted an unnamed senior official in Japan's Foreign Ministry, who it described as stunned. "What is the US intention by moving toward weakening its nuclear deterrence when North Korea is firing missiles toward Japan," he asked. The apparently successful test of a submarine launched missile earlier this week only heightened concerns.
The current policy dates back to the Cold War... Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces vastly outnumbered the US and its NATO partners, and Washington believed it could deter a conventional attack, by threatening to destroy formations of Soviet tanks with battlefield nuclear weapons. Advocates of 'no first use' point out that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are long out of business and that, in the 21st Century, it's the United States that enjoys massive conventional superiority. And, in fact, policy has shifted: a Nuclear Posture Review in 2010 described deterrence, not war fighting, as the fundamental role of the US nuclear Arsenal.
Still, Tokyo worries that "no first use" would send the wrong message to North Korea, Seoul agrees, and also fears the policy shift would encourage those who want South Korea to develop nuclear weapons of its own. More than 40 former diplomats, cabinet officers and defense officials from the Asia Pacific issued a statement last week, in support of no first use, and called on Japan and other US allies to endorse it.