Bush Administration Reaffirms Negative Security Assurances

By Bleek, Philipp C. | Arms Control Today, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Bush Administration Reaffirms Negative Security Assurances


Bleek, Philipp C., Arms Control Today


ON FEBRUARY 22, the State Department reiterated a longstanding U.S. policy that restricts the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-armed states, after a senior arms control official cast doubt on the Bush administration's support for the pledge.

Responding to a question at a press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher repeated a 1995 version of a commitment first made in 1978: "The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon state parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT], except in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a state toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear weapon state in association or alliance with a nuclear weapon state."

Boucher subsequently qualified the pledge, saying, "We will do whatever is necessary to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its allies, and its interests. If a weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States or its allies, we will not rule out any specific type of military response."

The United States first formally enunciated the nuclear pledge, known as a "negative security assurance," in 1978 and reiterated it in slightly less restrictive form prior to the 1995 NPT review and extension conference to encourage the non-nuclear-- weapon states to support the indefinite extension of the treaty. Similar pledges were made by the other four NPT nuclear-- weapon states and subsequently noted in a UN Security Council resolution.

However, despite the language in the negative security assurance-and consistent with Boucher's qualification of the pledge-- U.S. officials have repeatedly refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical weapon attacks.

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