The Persistence of Nuclear First-Use
  • Andrew M Johnston


In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff “Buck”Turgidson is rebuked by President Merkin Muffley for advocating preventive nuclear war against the Soviet Union. “General,” the President admonished, “it is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.” Kubrick, who had a library on nuclear strategy and subscriptions to military magazines, knew better. Muffley was wrong, as Turgidson later pointed out: the president had given pre-delegated authority to launch a nuclear attack under certain conditions. Preemption could slide into preventive war if America’s field commanders were not watched carefully. Since 1954, it has been the declaratory policy of the United States to use nuclear weapons first.1 It was a policy the Eisenhower administration drafted for its NATO allies, making it the soi-disant centerpiece of the alliance’s military security throughout the Cold War.Even after its 1991 and 1999 strategic concepts addressed new concerns about regional stability and state-building, firstuse was untouchable. It is the most enduring strategic statement of the Western alliance.2


Foreign Policy Nuclear Weapon Nuclear Deterrence Warsaw Pact Strategic Concept 
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Copyright information

© Andrew M. Johnston 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew M Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Western OntarioLondonUK

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