Turning U.S. nuclear policy toward an emerging threat, President Clinton has decided the United States will consider using nuclear weapons against attackers who hit American forces with chemical or biological weapons.
The policy, made explicit in a classified presidential directive, marks the administration’s first instruction to the Pentagon shaping a nuclear strategy against the increasingly worrisome possibility that nations such as Iraq might turn chemical or biological arsenals against U.S. troops.
A senior Clinton administration adviser said Sunday the policy conforms with two decades of White House statements on the possible “first use” of nuclear weapons. But it adds presidential weight to the emerging concern about “rogue states” that has replaced the nuclear terror of the Cold War.
Approved last month by Clinton, principal elements of the “Presidential Decision Directive,” or PDD, were reported Sunday by The Washington Post. In many respects, the directive follows long-standing policy on nuclear weapons, including continued support for the nuclear triad - bombers, land-based missiles and missile submarines - and basic reliance on nuclear weapons as a mainstay of national security.
The document breaks new ground by abandoning the concept that the United States should plan for a protracted nuclear war that it could “win” and by allowing nuclear targeters to expand the list of potential targets that could be struck in China in the unlikely event of war with that nation.
“We felt that the concept of protracted nuclear war never had a great deal of credibility,” Robert Bell, a senior member of Clinton’s National Security Council staff, said Sunday in response to reporters’ questions. Such a possibility was outlined in a 1981 Reagan administration directive. “There was an anomaly,” Bell said: “The president’s own guidance to the Strategic Command … was unrealizable.”
Senior military officers have been warning that arms reduction agreements no longer make such a conflict even feasible, let alone winnable. As a result, Clinton ordered his reassessment last February.
Worries about all-out nuclear war have been replaced by concerns that an adversary such as Iraq might use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces. As a result, Bell said, the presidential directive discusses in far greater detail than in past directives responses the United States should have available.
“The PDD requires a wide range of nuclear retaliatory options, from a limited strike to a more general nuclear exchange,” Bell said.
John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists said Sunday that the presidential directive represents a far sharper policy shift than the Clinton administration would admit. The White House, he said, was bowing to strategies already set by the military.
“What they are retroactively doing is attempting to realign national policy with what the operational policy has been for some time,” Pike said. “The colonels and lieutenant colonels figured out what they wanted to do, and you’ve just now got the White House catching up with that.”
xxxx Possible threats Not all countries with chemical or biological weapons are known. Countries most often cited: Chemical and Biological Weapons Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Egypt, Vietnam, India, South Korea, China, Russia. Biological Weapons Laos, Cuba, Bulgaria, South Africa. Chemical Weapons Burma, Pakistan, Ethiopia. (Source: Congressional Quarterly’s CQ Researcher; U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency)