Andrew Lichterman

Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, a leading analyst of U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies, has discovered that the Pentagon has withdrawn its draft revised doctrine for use of nuclear weapons, and the existing doctrine documents as well:

The Pentagon has formally cancelled a controversial revision of Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations after the doctrine was exposed last year in an article in Arms Control Today in September 2005 and the Washington Post. The revised draft included for the first time descriptions of preemptive use of US nuclear weapons, and caused the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask for a briefing, and 16 lawmakers to protest to President Bush. (See Kristensenís full account of the cancellation of these documents)

The draft document and that which it was slated to replace, along with other U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine statements (some now also “cancelled,”) are archived on the Western States Legal Foundation web site.

As Kristensen notes, although the documents that caused the controversy may have been withdrawn, there is no indication that U.S. nuclear weapons use policy has been changed. The episode says more about this governmentís penchant for secrecy than it does about any reevaluation of nuclear weapons policies. Like the NSA spying scandal, the government response is not to engage in a real debate about policy, but to deny that they are doing whatever caused the controversy, while removing evidence that they might be from conspicuous public view. The United States remains prepared to use its fearsome nuclear arsenal in a variety of circumstances beyond retaliating for nuclear attack, from destroying the chemical and biological weapons of an adversary before they can be used to nuclear weapons use against conventional forces that threaten to overwhelm U.S. troops. Other public documents from the Department of Defense and the military services that have not yet been ‘cancelled’ say many of the same things as the documents that attracted public notice, and then were withdrawn.

A few examples:

Air Force Doctrine Document AFDD 2-1.5, Nuclear Operations, 15 July 1998

Nuclear deterrence is not limited to the threat of attack against the United States. The development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons and their associated delivery systems, threatens US forces and interests around the world. Because the United States lacks the ability for an in-kind response to chemical and biological weapons, it must maintain a credible nuclear deterrent against all forms of WMD. AFDD 2-1.5, Nuclear Operations, 15 July 1998, pp. v-vi.

Stated policies will also affect the ability to deter an enemy. As an example, US policy on using nuclear weapons to respond to an adversary’s battlefield use of WMD is purposely vague. The ambiguous nature of American policy makes it impossible for an enemy to assume such a response would not be forthcoming. Even though there is no guarantee nuclear force would be used to respond to a WMD attack, planners must prepare alternatives for civilian policymakers to make that option available. AFDD 2-1.5, Nuclear Operations, 15 July 1998, p. 3

Nuclear weapons might be used to destroy enemy WMD before they can be used, or they may be used against enemy conventional forces if other means to stop them have proven ineffective. This can reduce the threat to the United States and its forces and could, through the destruction of enemy forces, bring an end to the conflict. AFDD 2-1.5, Nuclear Operations, 15 July 1998, pp.8-9

Another recent document makes it clear that military planners see far broader roles for nuclear weapons than deterring nuclear attack:

Nuclear weapons provide the President with the ultimate means to terminate conflict promptly on terms favorable to the United States. They cast a lengthy shadow over a rational adversary’s decision calculus when considering coercion, aggression, WMD employment, and escalatory courses of action. Nuclear weapons threaten destruction of an adversary’s most highly valued assets, including adversary WMD/E capabilities, critical industries, key resources, and means of political organization and control (including the adversary leadership itself). This includes destruction of targets otherwise invulnerable to conventional attack, e.g., hard and deeply buried facilities, “location uncertainty” targets, etc. Nuclear weapons reduce an adversary’s confidence in their ability to control wartime escalation. U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Deterrence Joint Operating Concept, February 2004, pp.32-33

U.S. nuclear weapons continue to be the ultimate threat underwriting an increasingly aggressive U.S. military posture worldwide. In the words of C. Paul Robinson, who has served both as Director of the Sandia National Laboratories and on the Strategic Advisory Group for the Commander, US Strategic Command, “For any real or emerging conflict in which the U.S. becomes engaged, the fact of the U.S. powerful arsenal of nuclear weapons cannot be dismissed from the thinking of the potential adversary, nor in my mind should it ever be so.” This is how nuclear weapons insiders think. Ignoring our20th century treaty commitment in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament,” they are preparing instead for nuclear domination of the 21st.

[citation to U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Deterrence Joint Operating Concept, February 2004 updated 2-9-06 to reflect pagination in online version of document ]