In May the Obama administration announced a new national nuclear policy. Its most striking feature is the pledge that, if a country that has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty should attack the United States with other weapons of mass destruction (chemical or biological), the U.S. response will be non-nuclear. President Barack Obama has said that one of his goals is to help bring about the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the new policy is clearly a carrot intended to help achieve that end: sign the treaty and you are safe from U.S. nuclear attack (though not from a "devastating conventional response").
So many people in and out of the administration clearly believe that nuclear weapons are a kind of ultimate evil, whether necessary or not. Perhaps it is time to think back through that claim. Did the United States commit a kind of original sin when it attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What has the role of these weapons been, and what is it likely to be? Perhaps most important, can the nuclear deterrent be replaced by something more benign?