Declaratory Policy
The Need for Declaratory Policy

Declaratory policy states, in very general terms, why a nation acquires certain kinds of weapons and how those weapons might be used. For example, the declaratory policy of the United States regarding nuclear weapons is stated in The National Military Strategy, last published in 2004:2

Nuclear capabilities [of the United States] continue to play an important role in deterrence by providing military options to deter a range of threats, including the use of WMD/E and large-scale conventional forces. Additionally, the extension of a credible nuclear deterrent to allies has been an important nonproliferation tool that has removed incentives for allies to develop and deploy nuclear forces.

By contrast, the declaratory policy of Israel regarding nuclear weapons is that it will not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The declaratory policy of China regarding nuclear weapons is that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. The Soviet Union once had a similar “no first use of nuclear weapons” declaratory policy, but Russia has since explicitly revoked that policy. U.S. declaratory policy has also evolved since 1945—“massive retaliation,” “flexible response,” and “escalation dominance” are some of the terms that have characterized different versions of U.S declaratory policy regarding nuclear weapons in that period.

Declaratory policy is not necessarily linked only to the use of nuclear weapons. In 1969, the United States renounced first use of lethal or incapacitating chemical agents and weapons and unconditionally renounced all methods of biological warfare.3 In 1997, the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the signatories from using lethal chemical weapons under any circumstances.

Declaratory policy is directed toward adversaries as much as it is to the declaring nation itself. A declaratory policy is intended, in part, to signal to an adversary what the declaring nation’s responses might be under various circumstances. On the other hand, a declaratory policy may also be couched deliberately in somewhat ambiguous terms, leaving somewhat vague and uncertain the circumstances under which the declaring nation would use nuclear weapons. Such vagueness and uncertainty have historically been regarded by the United States as a strength rather than


Joint Chiefs of Staff, The National Military Strategy of the United States of America, 2004, available at http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/nms2004.pdf.


See http://www.state.gov/t/ac/trt/4718.htm.

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