Putting Warren’s nuclear pledge in context

Adam Pontius
10 min readAug 2, 2019
Governor Steve Bullock of Montana and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sparred on nuclear policy at the CNN Democratic primary debate on Tuesday. Image credit: 27f8c42b-5508–41e1-a8c7–393be4d3de70.jpeg

Who would have thought that the terribly moderated CNN Democratic primary debates might actually result in substantive political dialogue on the issue of nuclear strategy? It certainly surprised me. Towards the end of an otherwise domestic and social issue heavy debate, CNN moderator Jake Tapper precipitated the following dialogue between Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Montana Governor Steve Bullock highlighting and discussing Warren’s pledge to reject the option of a first-use nuclear strike in any circumstance:

[I edited out a lot of the interjections from Tapper and Lemon. The four digit codes are time signatures from the video.]

Jake Tapper: 19:48 Senator Warren, you want to make it US policy that the US will never use a nuclear weapon unless another country uses one first. Now, President Obama reportedly considered that policy, but ultimately decided against it. Why should the US tie its own hands with that policy?

Elizabeth W: [20:07] Because it makes the world safer. The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively, and we need to say so to the entire world. It reduces the likelihood that someone miscalculate, someone misunderstands. [20:24] Our first responsibility is to keep ourselves safe, and what’s happening right now with Donald Trump as they keep expanding the different ways that we have nuclear weapons, the different ways that they can be used, puts us all at risk. [20:39]You know, we talk about what’s happening around the world. I have three older brothers who served in the military. I see that they would do anything. Our military is the best on earth, but we should not be asking our military to take on jobs that do not have a military solution. We need to use our diplomatic tools, our economic tools, and if we’re going to send someone into war, we better have a plan for how we’re going to get them out on the other end.

Jake Tapper:[21:08]Thank you, Senator. Governor Bullock, your response to Senator Warren’s proposal to the US never use a nuclear weapon first?

Steve Bullock:[21:15] I wouldn’t want to take that off the table. I think America’s strength, we have to be able to say that.[21:20] Look, never, I hope certainly in my term or anyone else, would we really even get close to pulling that trigger…

Adam Pontius

Writer on international politics. Occasional political consultant. Travel, history, and food. Misc and random pieces filed here. Twitter: @AdamMPontius