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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. What legal or philosophical principle differentiates the moral wrong that would be attributed to a terrorist, non-state actor, or hacker who delivered a nuclear weapon from the presidential launch of a nuclear weapon?
A conference held at Harvard University in November 2017 brought together international scholars and political leaders to examine the nature of presidential first use in the United States. Watch highlights from the conference below.
Co-chairs: Elaine Scarry and Jonathan King
Speakers: Bruce Ackerman, Kennette Benedict, Bruce Blair, Sissela Bok, Rosa Brooks, John Burroughs, Hugh Gusterson, Ed Markey, Jim McGovern, Zia Mian, and William Perry
Co-sponsors: Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard’s Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Mass Peace Action, Institute for People’s Engagement and Union of Concerned Scientists
Bruce Ackerman is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale Law School.
Bruce Blair is the former Missile Launch Officer at Princeton University.
Edward J. Markey is Senator for Massachusetts.
Elaine Scarry, Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, is author most recently of Thinking in an Emergency.
Hugh Gusterson is Professor of International Affairs and Anthropology at The George Washington University and the author of People of the Bomb: Portraits of America's Nuclear Complex.
Jim McGovern is Congressman for the 2nd District of Massachusetts.
John Burroughs is Director of the United Nations Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms.
Jonathan King is Professor of Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Kennette Benedict is the former Executive Director of Bulletin of Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago.
Rosa Brooks is Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.
Sissela Bok is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health.
William Perry is the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor (emeritus) at Stanford University.
Zia Mian is Co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University.
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