US nuclear warplans fly around the internet

Feature story - September 30, 2005
"Even in an unclassified world this is not the kind of thing you want flying around the Internet," says Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita. He was talking about a document, yanked from a Pentagon website on September 19th, which outlines US nuclear warfighting plans, including the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons and the use of nukes in conventional war.

Illustration explaining the convergence of nuclear and non-nuclear options for Pentagon war planning.

Comments to the document by the various military branches revealsquabbling about who gets to run a nuclear war, a disagreement aboutthe legality of pre-emptive warfighting strategies, and a discussion ofthe etiquette of alerting allied troops that a nuclear attack is comingtheir way.

This is exactly the kind ofinformation which we believe ought to be flying around the internet; these guys really shouldn't be left alone to talkabout this stuff behind closed doors.

Sowe took our copy and uploaded it here  You can help ensure it flies around theinternet some more by sending this article to a friend.

UpdateFebruary, 2006:  The Joint Nuclear Operations Doctrine andfourother documents have been formally cancelled by thePentagon. However, this means no substantive change to US nuclear policy, onlythat the documents have been removed from the public domain and thePentagon reading list.  More informationfrom the Federation of Amercian Scientists.

Nuclear war: it's not just for breakfast anymore

Thedocument is a rare unpolished look at how the Cold War doctrine ofnuclear first strike - previously spun as "deterrence" - has taken on anew dimension.

It reveals that the threshold for actually using nuclearweapons has been lowered dramatically.

And it outs the untruth ofGeorge Bush claiming that the US is reducing the importance of itsnuclear arsenal.

For instance, the document condones pre-emptivenuclear strikes against nations (even those without nuclear weapons)which the US government thinks might use chemical or biological weaponsagainst US forces or allies. The document also condones the use ofnuclear weapons as just another item in the warfighting toolbox, andunderscores the importance of US troops being able to continuefunctioning in a highly irradiated battle zone.

Thedocument has excellent, practical advice on how to deal with situationslike a nuclear foe who might retaliate with nuclear weapons:

"Executinga nuclear option, or even a portion of an option, should send a clearsignal of United States' resolve. Hence, options must be selected verycarefully and deliberately so that the attack can help ensure theadversary recognizes the "signal" and should therefore not assume theUnited States has escalated to general nuclear war, although thatperception cannot be guaranteed."

It's comforting to know thatthe Pentagon recognises that nuclear weapons are very, very bad atconveying nuanced messages. Perhaps if they accompanied the attack witha thoughtful card, that would help make their meaning clear? 

Fission vision sparks division

However,editing notes show internal disagreement amongst US militarycommanders. The disputes are over the document's enthusiasm for usingnuclear weapons in attacks on infrastructure which would inevitablylead to massive civilian casualties. Some commanders expressed extremedoubts over both the legality of the new nuclear doctrine, and that thethreats used to justify this new doctrine actually exist.

The USstrategic command, STRATCOM, which directs nuclear warfightingcommented "Many operational law attorneys do not believe "countervalue"targeting is a lawful justification for employment of force, much lessnuclear force. Countervalue philosophy makes no distinction betweenpurely civilian activities and military-related activities and could beused to justify deliberate attacks on civilians and non-militaryportions of a nation's economy... For example, under the countervaluetarget philosophy, the attack on the World Trade Centre Towers on 9/11could be justified."

Since it's not illegal, it must be ok

Ina chilling finale, "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" concludesthat "no customary or conventional international law prohibits nationsfrom employing nuclear weapons in armed conflict." 

Greenpeacedisarmament campaigner William Peden said, "This document should send ashiver down the spine of everyone. It shows that the highest levels ofthe Pentagon have undergone a major shift in thinking and now viewnuclear weapons no longer as a weapon of last resort but a weapon thatcan and should be used."

"This means a US military machineprepared to use nuclear weapons first, against non-nuclear countries andnon-military-related, civilian targets."

Make sure the Pentagon's plans for nuclear war fly around the internet

Nuclear warfighting plans concern all of us -- they shouldn't be kept secret. Help ensure that these unclassified documents are exposed to plenty of sunlight by sending this article to a few friends.

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