IFILL: What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?PALIN: Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.
Her next utterance was a bit more coherent but didn't answer the question either: "Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that's a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry."
I imagine that Palin agrees with the Bush doctrine, regardless of whether she knows what it is. That doctrine in fact puts US use of nuclear weapons on the table as a pre-emptive measure against states that are acquiring weapons of mass destruction. This is a far cry from cold-war era "no first strike" deterrence postures.
The world has changed a lot since the end of the cold war. In his book, Schell does an excellent job of describing what's changed, why the end of the cold war did not lead to disarmament, why rogue states acquiring nukes is a tremendous threat, and why Bush's doctrine of US global dominance and pre-emptive war to prevent proliferation is not a solution. Something needs to be done -- nobody can feel comfortable with states like Iran and North Korea wielding nukes -- but in Schell's opinion the only rational answer is global nuclear disarmament. Surprisingly, the world came closest to enacting such a plan during the Reagan/Gorbachev summits in the late 80s. Reagan was a hawk but he also believed in abolishing nuclear weapons. Unfortunately nuclear disarmament treaties are all but defunct now. Neoconservatives, on the contrary, have pushed for new types of nukes and new protocols that allow for US first-use (see "global strike" doctrine).
I hope Barack Obama reads this book or has someone like Schell advising him.
Regarding Sarah Palin, I found a post at a foreign policy blog called Democracy Arsenal that describes better than I can why it's so scary that a vice-presidential candidate can't speak intelligently about the decision to launch a nuclear strike: Palin on Nuclear Weapons.
On a related note, check out PD Smith's recent article Faust and the Physicists.