- WASHINGTON - The United States should maintain the threat of nuclear retaliation
with an "irrational and vindictive" streak to intimidate would-be
attackers such as Iraq, according to an internal military study made public
- The study, "Essentials of Post-Cold
War Deterrence," was written by the Air Force's Strategic Command,
military headquarters responsible for the nation's strategic nuclear arsenal.
It was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by an arms control
group and published Sunday in a report on U.S. strategies for deterring
attacks by antagonistic nations using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
- "Because of the value that comes
from the ambiguity of what the U.S. may do to an adversary if the acts
we seek to deter are carried out, it hurts to portray ourselves as too
fully rational and cool-headed," the 1995 Strategic Command study
- The London-based think tank the British-American
Security Information Council cited the STRATCOM document in its report
as an example of the Pentagon's push to maintain a mission for its nuclear
arsenal long after the Soviet threat disappeared.
- The report portrays the command as fighting
and winning an internal bureaucratic battle against liberal Clinton administration
officials who lean in favor of dramatic nuclear weapons reductions. Citing
a range of formerly classified documents obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act, the report shows how the United States shifted its nuclear
deterrent strategy from the defunct Soviet Union to so-called rogue states:
Iraq, Libya, Cuba, North Korea and the like.
- In its study, the Strategic Command uses
Cold War language in defending the relevance of nuclear weapons in deterring
such potential adversaries.
- "The fact that some elements (of
the U.S. government) may appear to be potentially 'out of control' can
be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds
of an adversary's decision makers," its report said. "That the
U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked
should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries."
- Two years after this document was written,
President Clinton approved a directive on U.S. nuclear policy that upheld
the "negative security assurance" that the United States will
refrain from first-use of nuclear weapons against signatories to the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, a list that includes Iraq, Iran, Libya and North
- The policy, however, includes exceptions
that presidential adviser Robert Bell said have been "refined"
in recent years. They would allow responding with nuclear weapons to attacks
by nuclear-capable states, countries that are not in good standing under
the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or states allied with nuclear powers.
Iraq, which the United States regards as violating international atomic
weapons restrictions, could be one such exception.
- Arms control advocates are concerned
that signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty who possess no nuclear
weapons will abandon the pact if they see the existing nuclear powers preserving
their nuclear arsenals and finding missions for their weapons - particularly
if those missions include scenarios that involve attacks on them.
- Bell, President Clinton's senior adviser
on nuclear weapons and arms control matters, disputed that argument in
an interview Friday.
- "I don't think there's a disconnect
in principle between some level of general planning at STRATCOM and the
negative security assurance and our goals relative to the Non-Proliferation
Treaty," Bell said. Treaty signatories are more worried about their
neighbors than the United States, Bell said, and they support the nuclear
weapons reductions the treaty imposes on nuclear-armed states.
- Of the 1995 Strategic Command document,
Bell said, "That sounds like an internal STRATCOM paper which certainly
does not rise to the level of national policy."
- Navy Lt. Laurel Tingley, spokeswoman
for the Omaha, Neb.-based command, said she could not comment on the council's
report until it could be reviewed in detail. She restated the command's
basic policy guidance that deterrence of attacks involving nuclear, chemical
or biological weapons is "the fundamental purpose of U.S. nuclear
- Worried that the Clinton administration
wanted to end the command's role, an internal memo referred in 1993 to
then-Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who was in charge of
proliferation and arms control issues, as having "negative feelings"
toward nuclear weapons. Background information on Carter, the command document
said, indicated "a less than favorable long-term outlook for nuclear
weapons" and long-term visions of "complete denuclearization."
- Carter, now at Harvard's John F. Kennedy
School of Government, said in a telephone interview the Strategic Command
saw its influence within the Pentagon waning as budgets for nuclear weapons
were slashed after the Cold War.
- At the Pentagon, Carter was trying to
develop nonnuclear options for retaliating against rogue attackers who
used weapons of mass destruction, he said, "because any president
would surely prefer to have nonnuclear options."
- "It doesn't surprise me at all that
those who were responsible for nuclear weapons budgets would find that
threatening," Carter said. But at the time, he said, the real threat
to the Strategic Command's mission came not from civilian Pentagon officials
but from within the uniformed military.