Congress Wants to Restrict First Use of Nuclear Weapons
Published July 24, 2017 / Updated August 5, 2020

Congress Wants to Restrict First Use of Nuclear Weapons

The authority to launch a nuclear first-strike has always rested unilaterally with the Commander-in-Chief.

by Caitlin Martin

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Bills to Lock Down First-Use

In January, Representative Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) introduced companion bills (H.R. 669 and S. 200) — Restricting the Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. The legislation “[prohibits] the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress. A “first-use nuclear strike” is the use of a nuclear weapon by the President without first determining that an adversary has launched an attack against us. The bill is currently stalled in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Lieu and Markey on Why This Matters

Rep. Lieu released the following statement when the bill was introduced:

“It is a frightening reality that the U.S. now has a Commander-in-Chief who has demonstrated ignorance of the nuclear triad, stated his desire to be ‘unpredictable’ with nuclear weapons, and as President-elect was making sweeping statements about U.S. nuclear policy over Twitter. Congress must act to preserve global stability by restricting the circumstances under which the U.S. would be the first nation to use a nuclear weapon. Our Founders created a system of checks and balances, and it is essential for that standard to be applied to the potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear war. I am proud to introduce the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 with Sen. Markey to realign our nation’s nuclear weapons launch policy with the Constitution and work towards a safer world.”

Senator Markey had this to say:

“Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival. Yet, President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists. Unfortunately, by maintaining the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, U.S. policy provides him with that power. In a crisis with another nuclear-armed country, this policy drastically increases the risk of unintended nuclear escalation. Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law. I thank Rep. Lieu for his partnership on this common-sense bill during this critical time in our nation’s history.”

The bill has broad support among Democrats and is also supported by the following people and organizations:

  • William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense
  • Tom Z. Collina, Policy Director of Ploughshares Fund
  • Derek Johnson, Executive Director of Global Zero
  • Megan Amundson, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)
  • Jeff Carter, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Diana Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)
  • The Arms Control Association

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