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Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?

Sat November 4, 2017 @ 9:00 am - 5:00 pm EDT

Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?

Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons

Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?

Saturday, November 4, 2017, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Harvard University, Science Center C, Cambridge, MA

Lunch Provided

RegisterNuclear weapons strategy in the United States is designed around “presidential first use,” an arrangement that enables one man, the president, to kill and maim many millions of people in a single afternoon.  Is this arrangement just? Is it legal? Is it constitutional? Since the start of the atomic age, how many times have presidents come close to launching a nuclear weapon? What responsibilities does a president have – while in office or once out of office – to inform his own citizenry and the world citizenry of any such contemplated actions? Does Congress, the press, or the citizenry have any record of asking the president to report on his record of contemplated launches?

 What acts might a foreign population (as opposed to a foreign leader) commit that would warrant or justify delivering such weapons to them? What legal or philosophical principle differentiates the moral harm or moral wrong that would be attributed to a terrorist, non-state actor or hacker who delivered a nuclear weapon from a presidential launch of a nuclear weapon?

 The conference will bring together international and constitutional scholars and statesmen to examine the nature of presidential first use in the United States, as well as parallel arrangements in the other nuclear states. 

Confirmed Speakers:

Bruce Ackerman: Yale Law School professor, a leading constitutional theorist, named as one of the top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy in 2010

Kennette Benedict: former executive director of Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Senior Advisor to Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,  and Lecturer at University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy

Bruce Blair: former missile launch officer, Princeton professor, and co-founder of Global Zero

Sissela Bok: philosopher, senior visiting fellow at Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, author of A Strategy for Peace

Rosa Brooks: Georgetown University Law Center professor and author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything)

John Burroughs: Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Director of the UN office of International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms

Hugh Gusterson: anthropologist, George Washington University, president of American Ethnological Society; author of books on nuclear weapons as well as Drone: Remote Control Warfare

Jim McGovern: US Representative, Massachusetts 2ndDistrict, first co-sponsor of Markey-Lieu bill, prominent Congressional voice on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Zia Mian Zia Mian: physicist,  co-director of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security, co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, and a leading expert on India and Pakistan

William Perry: former US Secretary of Defense; mathematician and engineer; Institute for International Studies, Stanford University; author, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (2015)

Elaine ScarryJonathan KingConference Co-Chairs: Elaine Scarry (Harvard University; author, Thermonuclear Monarchy); Jonathan King (MIT; chair, Mass. Peace Action Nuclear Disarmament Working Group) 

Sponsors: Mahindra Humanities Center,  Harvard University; Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Harvard University; Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund; Institute for People’s Engagement; Union of Concerned Scientists

Co-Sponsors: Boston Review; American Friends Service Committee; Council for a Livable World; Future of Life Institute; World Beyond War; Peace Action; Pax Christi Massachusetts; Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility; Global Zero Boston; Women’s Action for New Directions; United for Peace and Justice

Venue: Harvard University, Science Center C, 1 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138.  

Transportation: The Red Line is running shuttles between Park Street and Kendall on weekends.  If coming from Boston, allow extra time for your trip!   

Parking:  You can park at Harvard for $8 for the day.   We can sign you up; you must send your license plate number to Mass. Peace Action and pay $8 when you register for the conference at the Science Center.  (Or you can sign up yourself using Harvard Parking’s computer system, but — it is a confusing system to use!)  And of course you can also park at the Charles Hotel or other public parking garages in the Harvard Square area.

Lunch:  A complimentary box lunch will be provided to the first 350 to register.   Four food trucks will also be parked outside the Science Center for those who wish a different option:  Bon Me – Vietnamese, many vegetarian options; Rhythm and Wraps – wraps, beans, etc; Roxy’s – great grilled cheese sandwiches, etc; and Zinneken’s.

Contact: Massachusetts Peace Action • info@masspeaceaction.orgwww.masspeaceaction.org  • 617-354-2169


Registration: Students free; general admission $0-20 depending what you can afford; supporters $75 or more (name will be listed in the conference program).  Register online at http://presidential-first-use.bpt.me/; or mail a check to Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund, 11 Garden St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (write “Presidential first use” on memo line); or call 617-354-2169 to charge your credit card.  Pre-pregistered attendees given first preference; walk-ins will be welcomed if space permits.

Download the Poster (11″x17″) or the Flyer (8 1/2″ x 11″)


Harvard Science Center C
1 Oxford St
Cambridge, MA 02138
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(617) 495-2627
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