On August 6 and August 9 we again take time to contemplate the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The arrangements that permitted a U.S. president to drop an atomic bomb on tens of thousands of civilians continue to be in place. Our country has a “presidential first use” policy which means that President Trump, acting alone, can issue the order for a nuclear strike, even if our own country is not under nuclear attack. This concern has been raised in the Democratic Party presidential primaries for the 2020 election with some candidates arguing for a shift to a U.S. policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. There is already legislation pending in Congress to this effect.
A conference held at Harvard entitled, “Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?” brought together a serving U.S. Congressman and a Senator, a former missile launch officer, several constitutional law professors, a former Secretary of Defense, a physicist, and several philosophers to address this question for the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
Youtube videos of their lectures can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2SOU6wwxB0vZEgAvRotf9-INc9nA8t02
An edited transcript of some of the talks at the conference is available at https://www.publicbooks.org/virtual-roundtable-on-presidential-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons-reprint/