Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation Wednesday seeking to stop the US from launching a first-strike nuclear weapons attack on another country.
Warren, of Massachusetts, and Rep. Adam Smith of Washington – both of whom are Democrats – introduced separate, but identical, bills in their individual chambers Wednesday.
“By making clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal, this bill would reduce the chances of a nuclear miscalculation and help us maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world,” they wrote in a joint statement.
Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has long been critical of the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and its plans to modernize the US nuclear weapon arsenal.
That review said that the US would consider a nuclear response to a potential “non-nuclear strategic attack.”
“The United States will only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners,” then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan said upon the review’s public release in February of 2018. Shanahan is now serving as the acting secretary of defense after the departure of his predecessor, James Mattis.
While the review opens the door to the US using nuclear weapons in response to a major non-nuclear attack, the administration’s policy is consistent with the views of past administrations that opted not to embrace a “no first use” policy.
“The context of an attack that does not involve nuclear weapons initially would be very important to take into account,” when considering whether or not to retaliate with nuclear weapons, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said.
Defense officials previously told CNN that a major cyber-attack that destroyed critical infrastructure could potentially fit this criteria.
Warren and Smith’s proposed legislation aiming to prevent presidents ordering a first nuclear strike is unlikely to get much backing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Republican Sen. Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, the chairwoman of the Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces – which oversees America’s nuclear weapons – issued a statement on Wednesday slamming the Warren-Smith legislation.
“Presidents from both parties, including the Obama administration, have rejected a no-first-use policy because it erodes deterrence, undermines allied confidence in US security guarantees and risks emboldening potential adversaries,” Fisher said.
She added that the proposed legislation “betrays a naïve and disturbed world view.”