BRIEFER: The Benefits of Further Declarations of Restraint from the Use of Nuclear Weapons

By Rear Admiral John Gower, CB OBE

An important component of reducing risk among nuclear-armed states is greater understanding of others’ policies, plans, and intentions regarding their arsenals. Such understanding serves to reduce significantly the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation that could precipitate the use of nuclear weapons.

While the greatest contributions to mutual reassurance and restraint are concrete (for example, the
extensions of weapons readiness, the retirement and decommissioning of systems), affirmation and
reaffirmation of restraint remain important. This briefer proposes several such affirmations of restraint
and reassurance that nuclear weapon-possessing states could make. It is possible that universal adoption
of some of these suggested lines could lead to more concrete steps, but even without them they have value
in nuclear risk reduction.

While it is true that nearly all nuclear-armed states include language in their declaratory policy statements
which place use of their nuclear weapons “in extremis,” there are four main types of these declarations of
restraint which should be considered distinct from the policy generalities:

  • A statement of implicit futility of first use
  • Further statements of last resort
  • Restrained decision protocols
  • Ambiguity clarification and resolution

Read the full briefer here.

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