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Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback

Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Overnight Health Care: CDC panel meets on vaccines and heart inflammation | Health officials emphasize vaccine is safe | Judge rules Missouri doesn't have to implement Medicaid expansion Democrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments MORE (D-Mass.) is taking heat from all sides over her proposal to make it official U.S. policy not to be the first to use a nuclear weapon.

Republicans slammed the proposal as sending a dangerous signal to both allies and enemies about a lack of U.S. resolve -- previewing a potential attack line from President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE should the two face off in the general election.

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Some Democrats do back the idea. But others say a "no first use" policy like the one Warren proposed is too simplistic for a complex world.

“The worry is that, of course, that should be our policy, but if we tell the world that is our policy … you actually may perversely encourage bad behavior in others,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineCommunion vote puts spotlight on Hispanic Catholics Biden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed MORE (D-Va.), who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016.

The United States has long reserved the right to be the first country to launch a nuclear weapon in a conflict.

Former President Obama reportedly thought of declaring a no first use policy toward the end of his tenure, but was talked out of it by advisors who argued it would worry allies and embolden adversaries.

Arms control advocates hold that declaring a no first use policy would improve U.S. national security by lowering the risk for miscalculation. 

Warren made no first use a key part of her foreign policy early on in her run.

“No first use. To reduce the chances of a miscalculation or an accident, and to maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world, we must be clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal,” she said in a November foreign policy speech.

The speech was delivered before she officially jumped in the race but was considered an early sign she was running.

In January, she introduced the Senate version of a bill to make no first use official U.S. policy. The bill has six co-sponsors, including follow presidential contenders Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' On The Money: Biden to fire FHFA director after Supreme Court removes restriction | Yellen pleads with Congress to raise debt ceiling MORE (I-Vt.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum House lawmakers introduce bill to overhaul military justice system Pentagon chief backs change to military sexual assault prosecution MORE (D-N.Y.).

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns MORE (D-Wash.), a longtime no first use advocate, also introduced the bill in the lower chamber. The House version has 35 co-sponsors, including presidential candidates Reps. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard on Chicago mayor's decision to limit media interviews to people of color: 'Anti-white racism' Fox News says network and anchor Leland Vittert have 'parted ways' New co-chairs named for congressional caucus for millennials MORE (D-Hawaii) and Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanDemocratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack J.D. Vance emerges as wild card in Ohio GOP Senate primary 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (D-Ohio.).

Only Warren, though, was asked to defend the policy at this week’s Democratic debates.

“We don't expand trust around the world by saying, ‘You know, we might be the first ones to use a nuclear weapon,’” Warren said Tuesday night from the stage in Detroit.

“That puts the entire world at risk and puts us at risk, right in the middle of this," she said.

She also noted that Trump's policies, including pulling out of a nuclear deal with Iran, had gotten the world "closer and closer to nuclear warfare."

"We have to have an announced policy that is one the entire world can live with," she concluded.

Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockArkansas, New Jersey governors to head National Governors Association Biden 'allies' painting him into a corner Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run MORE (D) shot back that he wouldn’t take the option off the table.

“I don't want to turn around and say, ‘Well, Detroit has to be gone before we would ever use that,’” he said.

Nonproliferation advocates hailed Warren after the debates.

“#NoFirstUse is exactly the kind of ambitious and far-reaching policy agenda we need to defuse nuclear flashpoints around the planet and begin to unravel the undemocratic and absolute power every American president holds to unilaterally start a nuclear war,” tweeted Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero.

“#NoFirstUse is a no-brainer that makes America, and the world, safer and more secure. It takes pressure off adversaries to ‘go nuclear’ first in a crisis.”

Some of Warren’s fellow Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, though, said the issue is more complicated than simply declaring “no first use.”

“Our nuclear force has to be an effective and strong deterrent, and so I think that it has to be regarded and used in that way, and over-simplistic terminology tends to diminish its force,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “The problem with talking about first strike and the reason why it’s over simplistic is that we’re developing new means of delivering nuclear deterrent, and I think that the meaning of first strike is undergoing new definitions.”

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced.

“Key question for Elizabeth Warren @ewarren today - which American cities and how many American citizens are you willing to sacrifice with your policy of forcing the US to absorb a nuclear attack before we can strike back?” Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Trump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says Liz Cheney hired security after death threats: report MORE (R-Wyo.) tweeted the day after the debate.

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Sen. Deb. Fischer (R-Neb.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services subcommittee with oversight of nuclear weapons, said a strong deterrence must include both nuclear capability and the commitment to use that capability.

“Our European allies, I’m sure they have to be scratching their heads that any presidential candidate would make a statement like that. We’ve never had a president who has ever, ever said that,” Fischer said. “It’s very, very disturbing that you would have any candidate for president make a statement like that and put this country in jeopardy. It’s basically saying that we’re not going to respond unless we see a city wiped out with a nuclear bomb, one of our cities.”

Trump’s own history with nuclear policy has been complicated.

During his first presidential campaign in 2016, Trump waffled on his willingness to use nuclear weapons, alternately saying he would “certainly not do first strike” but that he “can’t take anything off the table.”

As president, Trump has made threats interpreted as nuclear taunts, such as threatening “fire and fury” on North Korea before developing a relationship with Kim Jong UnKim Jong Un North Korea says it won't engage in talks with U.S. that would get nowhere Sister of North Korean leader dismisses prospects for talks with US Sullivan: Comments by North Korea's Kim an 'interesting signal' MORE. Trump has also bragged about the size and power of the nuclear arsenal, but has added “hopefully we will never have to use this power.”

His administration’s Nuclear Posture Review says the United States would only use nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances.”

The review added the United States will “posture our nuclear capabilities to hedge against multiple potential risks and threat developments,” including non-nuclear threats such as chemical, biological, cyber and large-scale conventional attacks.

The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Hill on Warren’s no first use proposal.

In response to criticism of the policy, Warren’s campaign sent The Hill seven tweets and articles from nonproliferation advocates in support of Warren. The support included former Defense Secretary William Perry, who tweeted that “our nuclear arsenal is intended to deter a nuclear attack, not to initiate a nuclear war.”

Warren campaign spokeswoman Saloni Sharma added that “our bill sends a clear signal to the world that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal.”