This should be a tee-ball question for a presidential candidate. First use isn’t rocket science, although it involves rockets.
TL;DR: There is no advantage from declaring a first-use policy. Go ahead and take it off the table.
It only makes sense for anyone to use nukes first if it really looks like the other guy will use nukes first.
That way, we don’t get nuked.
There’s a reason, though, that we survived the past 71 years not only without blowing up the planet, but with ZERO nuclear attacks anywhere in the world since 1945. And that’s because no one wants to get nuked back, and everyone knows that everyone else doesn’t want to get nuked back, and everyone knows that if they nuke someone, they WILL get nuked back. For those unfamiliar, this is known as MAD (mutually assured destruction), and it is the most basic reality of nuclear weapons.
So when might the other guy use nukes first? (Hint: No)
-If they think we will use nukes first (solution: don’t say we will, even if in your heart of hearts you want to)
-If they think they can pull it off before we get a chance to counterattack (that way, they don’t get nuked back)
This would require a complete, crippling cyberattack on our military command infrastructure, the ability to resist any such cyber-response on our part, a complete anti-satellite attack using technology that has barely been invented and never combat-tested, and probably, to be safe, they’d want to have a level of anti-missile defense that doesn’t exist yet, just in case we manage to send a missile or two their way.
-If they’re okay with living the rest of their lives in a world with one North America-worth of nuclear fallout, and all the cancer and radiation sickness that comes with that.
You think Chernobyl and Fukushima were bad?
-If they’re crazy-suicidal (be careful with this one)
Because if we or our allies somehow suffer some limited nuclear attack from North Korea (because they don’t have many to use, and their missiles are prone to failure), or someday Iran, that hits one or two cities, our counterattack would leave only a glassy wasteland, spoken of in hushed, superstitious whispers. And they know this.
And it’s easy to hand-wave and say “Kim Jong Un something something unstable something something Dennis Rodman” or “Iran something something Muslim something something suicide bombers,” but really understand that the leaders making the call would not only be signing their own death warrants, but those of millions of their countrymen. For what? To give the U.S. a black eye that, in the grand scope of history, we’d eventually move on from? It’s really a leap of faith to seriously think they’ll do that. At least be honest about that.
And no, I’m not saying it’s fine to let Iran have nukes, just in case you got the wrong idea. Iran Deal post still forthcoming.