September 13, 2005

Proposed New U.S. Nuclear Arms Plan: Nuke First, Ask Questions Later?

On September 11th, The Washington Post reported some details about the Pentagon's proposed stepped-up new nuclear arms plan. From the UK Times Online:
A PRESIDENT of the United States would be able to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against enemies planning to use weapons of mass destruction under a revised “nuclear operations” doctrine to be signed in the next few weeks. In a significant shift after half a century of nuclear deterrence based on the threat of massive retaliation, the revised doctrine would allow pre-emptive strikes against states or terror groups, and to destroy chemical and biological weapons stockpiles.
The new document is the first to spell out various contingencies in which a preemptive nuclear strike might be used, including:
  • If an adversary intended to use weapons of mass destruction against the US multinational or allied forces or a civilian population
  • In cases of an imminent attack from an adversary's biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy
  • Against adversary installations, including weapons of mass destruction; deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons; or the command-and-control infrastructure required for the adversary to execute a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attack against the US or its friends and allies
  • In cases where a demonstration of US intent and capability to use nuclear weapons would deter weapons of mass destruction use by an adversary.
The previous doctrine, promulgated under the Clinton administration in 1995 made no mention of the preemptive use of nuclear weapons against any target, let alone describe scenarios in which such use would be considered.

Moreover, the new doctrine blurs the distinction that existed during the Cold War between strategic and theater nuclear weapons by "assigning all nuclear weapons, whether strategic or nonstrategic, support roles in theater nuclear operations", according to Kristensen.

Another particularly worrisome aspect of the latest doctrine, according to Oelrich, is its conflation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as one "WMD" threat that could justify a US nuclear strike, particularly given the huge disparity in destructive and lethal impact between chemical weapons, on the one hand, and nuclear arms on the other.

"What we are seeing now is an effort to lay the foundations for the legitimacy of using nuclear weapons if [the administration] suspects another country might use chemical weapons against us," he said. "Iraq is a perfect example of how this doctrine might actually work; it was a country where we were engaged militarily and thought it would deploy chemical weapons against us."

Critics also fear that resorting to nuclear weapons may have become increasingly attractive to the administration as the Army and Marines have become bogged down in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. [continue reading]

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