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. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives.
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 during the Clinton administration, 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. It is expected to be signed within a few weeks by Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, director of the Joint Staff, according to Navy Cmdr. Dawn Cutler, a public affairs officer in Myers's office. Meanwhile, the draft is going through final coordination with the military services, the combatant commanders, Pentagon legal authorities and Rumsfeld's office, Cutler said in a written statement.
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."
But Congress last year halted funding of a study to determine the viability of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator warhead (RNEP) — commonly called the bunker buster — that the Pentagon has said is needed to attack hardened, deeply buried weapons sites.
The Joint Staff draft doctrine explains that despite the end of the Cold War, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "raises the danger of nuclear weapons use." It says that there are "about thirty nations with WMD programs" along with "nonstate actors (terrorists) either independently or as sponsored by an adversarial state."
To meet that situation, the document says that "responsible security planning requires preparation for threats that are possible, though perhaps unlikely today."
To deter WMD use against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."
The draft says that to deter a potential adversary from using WMD, that adversary's leadership must "believe the United States has both the ability and will to pre-empt or retaliate promptly with responses that are credible and effective." The draft also notes that U.S. policy in the past has "repeatedly rejected calls for adoption of 'no first use' policy of nuclear weapons since this policy could undermine deterrence."
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has been a leading opponent of the bunker-buster program, said Saturday the draft was "apparently a follow-through on their nuclear posture review and they seem to bypass the idea that Congress had doubts about the program." She added that members "certainly don't want the administration to move forward with a (nuclear) pre-emption policy" without hearings.
A spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday the panel has not yet received a copy of the draft.
Hans Kristensen, a consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who discovered the document on the Pentagon Web site, said Saturday that it "emphasizes the need for a robust nuclear arsenal ready to strike on short notice including new missions."