September 11, 2005

U.S. updating rules for use of nuclear weapons

Walter Pincus Washington Post
 

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to pre-empt an attack by a nation or terror group using weapons of mass destruction.

The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a pre-emption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002.

At a White House briefing that year, a spokesman said the United States would “respond with overwhelming force” to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its forces or allies, and said “all options” would be available to the president.

The draft, dated March 15, would provide authoritative guidance for commanders to request presidential approval for using nuclear weapons, and represents the Pentagon’s first attempt to revise procedures to reflect the Bush pre-emption doctrine. A previous version, completed in 1995, contains no mention of using nuclear weapons pre-emptively or specifically against WMD threats.

Titled “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” and written under the direction of Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the draft document is unclassified and available on a Pentagon Web site.

A “summary of changes” included in the draft identifies differences from the 1995 doctrine and says the new document “revises the discussion of nuclear weapons use across the range of military operations.”

The first example for potential nuclear weapon use listed in the draft is against an enemy that is using “or intending to use WMD” against U.S. or allied, multinational military forces or civilian populations.

Another scenario for a possible nuclear pre-emptive strike is in case of an “imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy.”

That and other provisions in the document appear to refer to nuclear initiatives proposed by the administration that Congress has thus far declined to fully support.

Last year, for example, Congress refused to fund research toward development of nuclear weapons that could destroy biological or chemical weapons materials without dispersing them into the atmosphere.

The draft document also envisions the use of atomic weapons for “attacks on adversary installations including WMD, deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email