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


Saturday, November 4, 2017, 9:00am to 5:00pm


Harvard Science Center

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 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 eight nuclear states.

To register for the conference, visit:


Bruce Ackerman
Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale Law School

Kennette Benedict
Former Executive Director of Bulletin of Atomic Scientists; University of Chicago

Bruce Blair
Former Missile Launch Officer; Princeton University

Sissela Bok

Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Harvard School of Public Health

Rosa Brooks
Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

John Burroughs
Director, the United Nations Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms

Hugh Gusterson
Professor of International Affairs and Anthropology, The George Washington University

Jim McGovern
Congressman for the 2nd District of Massachusetts

Zia Mian
Co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

William Perry
Former US Secretary of Defense (1994-1997); Stanford University

Conference Co-Chairs

Elaine Scarry
Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value, Harvard University

Jonathan King
Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cosponsored with Harvard’s Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Mass Peace Action, Mass Peace Action Education Fund, American Friends Service Committee, Council for A Livable World, Future of Life Institute, World beyond War, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Boston Review.