Gary Farber, in comments to the previous post, took issue with my characterization of this administration's adoption of a first-strike nuclear policy as new:
[This] actually goes back to every National Security Directive since the invention of the bomb. ... There was never a credible threat against the Soviet Union without it, was the rationale. Thus, without it, no deterrence against their going through the Fulda Gap....
This is not the understanding of many professional observers of U.S. nuclear and military doctrine. It is true that U.S. national security policy since the 1940s has continuously given a central place to the possession of nuclear weapons and the willingness to use them in retaliation against attack. That stated willingness is what was supposed to give credibility to the deterrent effect of our nuclear arsenal. However, U.S. national security doctrine has never, until recently, officially countenanced the use of nuclear weapons against countries or entities that have not attacked us.
Key members of the Bush administration, in particular Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, came into office intending to change the U.S. nuclear and conventional security strategy in the direction of first strike. Donald Rumsfeld has advocated "missile defense" and weaponizing space for most of his career, in order to give the United States first-strike capacities not available to any other country. The 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document, drawn up by Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby at the request of then-Defense Secretary Cheney, and the Project for a New American Century's 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' paper of 2000 both argue for this change. The spring 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (mandated by Congress in 2000) was written by adherents of the Cheney-Rumsfeld viewpoint.
The analysis of that 2002 NPR by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation was that "it suggests a shift in U.S. nuclear use doctrine":
The role of nuclear weapons has always been to deter an attack by a nuclear-armed adversary, and to retaliate as a last resort. Furthermore, the U.S. pledges not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPR reflects a noticeable shift in these long-standing policies. First, it suggests that nuclear weapons could be used in a pre-emptive first strike "against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities)."
Second, the NPR requires the U.S. nuclear force to be able to respond to immediate or unexpected contingencies involving North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, all of which are members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (although some of these countries are not members in good standing.) These contingencies suggest that the U.S. may be the first country to use nuclear weapons in a future conventional conflict. [my emphasis]
Contrast this with the analysis of the Center for Defense Information of a previous Nuclear Posture Review, in September 1994, which emphasizes the deliberate ambiguity about occasions for use, but cites no language at all that envisions a situation in which the U.S. employs nuclear weapons as anything other than a reaction to an attack (though not necessarily a nuclear attack).
The current administration's September 2002 National Security Strategy document is an explicit statement that U.S. war policy now includes "preventive" war, military strikes against a perceived threat rather than in response to any actual attack. This policy was put into effect in the invasion of Iraq.
Now, there is clear evidence that this aggressive approach to conventional military action is broadening to include the use of nuclear weapons. William Arkin, a veteran defense reporter, wrote in June 2005 for the front page of the Washington Post Sunday opinion section:
In the secret world of military planning, global strike has become the term of art to describe a specific preemptive attack. When military officials refer to global strike, they stress its conventional elements.
Surprisingly, however, global strike also includes a nuclear option, which runs counter to traditional U.S. notions about the defensive role of nuclear weapons. The official U.S. position on the use of nuclear weapons has not changed.
This passage implies that up until now, U.S. nuclear posture has been defensive, not first strike (preventive/preemptive). The main point of Arkin's opinion piece was his call for open discussion of this new policy, exactly because it was new, before it became official and permanent.
And that official U.S. position on the use of nuclear weapons is in the process of changing. Walter Pincus reported last September:
The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist 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 H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption 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.
Pincus' story ran on the front page, so the Post clearly considered it news, i.e., a change from existing nuclear doctrine. I have not seen anyone report since that Rumsfeld has signed off on the new nuclear posture, to make it technically official. But in practice the new posture has already taken effect, since Bush has refused to rule out nuclear weapons use in a first-strike attack on Iran.
Finally, the reaction of physicists around the world reinforces the view that something is changing:
A proposed change in U.S. nuclear weapons policy has exploded into a controversy between the Bush Administration and physicists worldwide. Sixteen faculty members of the MIT physics department have joined over a thousand physicists in signing a petition repudiating a Pentagon proposal that would “foresee pre-emptive nuclear strikes against non-nuclear adversaries.”
Everyone quoted in the article, including people who have declined to sign the petition, sees the Bush policy as a significant departure. Theodore Postol articulates the nature and implications of the change:
Postol said he believes the new policy “tremendously stimulates” states to develop nuclear weapons. “It will cause countries to reconsider their nuclear status. “The only way to prevent preemptive attacks is to develop arms” to deter these attacks, Postol said. ... He pointed out differences in perception towards attacking Iraq and North Korea as proof that possessing nuclear weapons can deter U.S. preemptive attacks.
Postol said that the U.S. has always been ambiguous about its nuclear first-strike policy because it serves the purpose of a deterrent.
Of course this country has always had the ability to launch a nuclear first strike. We are the only country ever to use nuclear weapons at all. But since the end of World War II, it has never been our stated policy to strike first.
Labels: the big I