No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security

No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security

No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security

No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security


For more than forty years, the United States has maintained a public commitment to nuclear disarmament, and every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama has gradually reduced the size of America's nuclear forces. Yet even now, over two decades after the end of the Cold War, the United States maintains a huge nuclear arsenal on high alert and ready for war. The Americans, like the Russians, the Chinese, and other major nuclear powers, continue to retain a deep faith in the political and military value of nuclear force, and this belief remains enshrined at the center of U.S. defense policy regardless of the radical changes that have taken place in international politics.

In No Use, national security scholar Thomas M. Nichols offers a lucid, accessible reexamination of the role of nuclear weapons and their prominence in U.S. security strategy. Nichols explains why strategies built for the Cold War have survived into the twenty-first century, and he illustrates how America's nearly unshakable belief in the utility of nuclear arms has hindered U.S. and international attempts to slow the nuclear programs of volatile regimes in North Korea and Iran. From a solid historical foundation, Nichols makes the compelling argument that to end the danger of worldwide nuclear holocaust, the United States must take the lead in abandoning unrealistic threats of nuclear force and then create a new and more stable approach to deterrence for the twenty-first century.


Although writing a book about the meaning of nuclear weapons has been in the back of my mind for years, I always hesitated about starting the project. A fair part of that reticence reflected the fact that much of what follows here could not have been written even a decade ago: not only did I think differently then about nuclear weapons during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, but there was much that we simply did not yet know (and still do not know) about the making of nuclear policies in the United States and the former Soviet Union. Nonetheless, I knew that the issues in this book have been coloring many of the other problems I’ve studied over the years. Whether writing about Soviet civil-military politics as I did at the start of my career, or considering the advent of a new international age of preventive war as I did in my most recent work, the use of nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war were constant companions to the questions I was investigating.

Paradoxically, I nonetheless avoided writing specifically about nuclear weapons for quite some time, because the implications of their use are so complicated and immense that they tend to swamp all other conclusions about anything else. The new reality, for example, that the United States and other nations now think much more permissively about preventive war—that is, attacking other nations far in advance of an actual threat— logically raises the question of whether anyone would use nuclear weapons in such preventive attacks. But to focus on that possibility in the larger discussion of preventive war risks placing the momentous but slight possibility of nuclear use at the center of what should be a larger discussion about the use of any kind of force. Once we start to think about nuclear bombs going off, it gets a little harder to think about anything else.

I also shied away from a project on nuclear weapons because I did not want my work to be overly influenced by my own experiences coming of . . .

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