Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons

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

A One-Day Conference

Nuclear 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 Policyin 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)
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 (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))
Conference 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; American Friends Service Committee (list in formation)

Venue: Cambridge, MA – TBA

Contact: Massachusetts Peace Action • • • 617-354-2169