International Security coverLast April, the Obama administration announced that the “United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”  This declaration appeared to sharply constrain the conditions under which any U.S. leader would consider using nuclear weapons.  After all, most of the world is made up of non-nuclear states in good standing with the NPT, meaning that there is a very small list of potential targets to attack.  Moreover, the administration went further by declaring that the fundamental purpose of nuclear weapons was deterrence and that such weapons were reserved for “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners” (quoted in Gerson, 7-8).


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