Changing Targets II: A Chronology of U.S. Nuclear Policy Against Weapons of Mass Destruction

Publication - 28 April, 2003

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Executive summary: Executive SummaryThe Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) completed by the Bush administration in December 2001 received widespread attention for its attempt to revitalize the U.S. nuclear posture. One of the most contentious elements was the prominent incorporation of so-called 'rogue states' (or 'states of concern') and the role U.S. nuclear weapons could have in deterring these countries from aggression against the U.S., its interests, and its allies. The NPR listed North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya as being among the countries that could be involved in immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies for U.S. nuclear forces.The review cleared up somewhat a decade-long ambiguity about the role U.S. nuclear forces are intended to serve in the 21st Century against countries other than Russia and China, the traditional foci of U.S. nuclear planning during the Cold War. During the first half of the 1990s, U.S. officials frequently denied that the role of nuclear weapons had been expanded geographically and to chemical and biological scenarios,despite widespread evidence that military planners were busy realigning nuclear doctrine and forces to address the new enemies. White House and Congressional use of a broad weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terminology to identify opponents and targets inevitably caused planners to broaden both the missions and capabilities of nuclear forces to fit the new rhetoric.The specific political guidance for this development was scarce, and in hindsight appears more to have caught up with the doctrinal and operational analysis and planning. For the first seven years of the post- Cold War era, the White House did not issue any comprehensive guidance for how the military should plan for the use of nuclear weapons. Not until 1997, six years after the Soviet Union crumbled, did the White House replace President Reagan's outdated guidance from 1981. The political focus instead was on arms reductions and only after the U.S. Strategic Command in preparation for START III in 1996-97 warned that it would not be able to fulfill Reagan's guidance with the 2,000-2,500 strategic warheads envisioned by a new treaty did President Clinton issue Presidential Decision Directive 60 (PDD-60) in November 1997.By the time PDD-60 finally materialized, the Office of the Secretary of Defense had issued new nuclear weapons employment policy twice and had completed a Nuclear Posture Review. In addition, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had updated the nuclear appendix to the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan half a dozen times and published new nuclear doctrine twice. This development speaks volumes about the leverage military planners have in shaping the nuclear posture and how relatively vague specific White House guidance is once it emerges.The rise of WMD proliferators to the top of anticipated contingencies that shape the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is a considerable change compared to the early 1990s, and illustrates the importance of understanding the evolution that took place in U.S. nuclear strategy during the 1990s. When I wrote the first Changing Targets report with Joshua Handler for the 1995 Non Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, our claim that U.S. nuclear strategy was expanding was strongly rejected by government officials who insisted that the U.S. was not seeking to expand but instead to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. The developments listed in this chronology suggest that we were not only right but that U.S. nuclear policy has evolved further than we could possibly have imagined. Within the course of a decade, the U.S. went from denying a role of nuclear weapons in deterring chemical and biologicalweapons to publicly emphasizing such a role as one of the core pillars of why it intends to maintain a large nuclear arsenal for the foreseeable future.These changes in nuclear policy, however, have profound implications for the future of the NPT. Although nuclear arsenals have been reduced both in size and diversity since the ending of the Cold War, the substantial modernization of the remaining nuclear forces and persistent official reaffirmation of their role and importance for national security suggest that the goal of NPT's article VI, at least with regards to the US, is no more within reach than a decade ago.When the NPT was agreed to in the 1960s, the essential logic of non-proliferation, as captured in Article VI of the treaty, demanded complete nuclear disarmament. In the 1990s, the nuclear weapons states have stood this logic on its head. Proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction has become a main rationale for the nuclear weapons states to keep and upgrade their own nuclear arsenals.This 'Changing Targets' report traces the policy statements and decisions which have transformed U.S. nuclear doctrine since 1989 from one primarily oriented toward the Soviet Union and its allies to a more precarious one focused on fighting a nuclear war in any regions of the globe.

Num. pages: 37