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Not Just A Last Resort?

Global strike thinkers may believe that they have found a way to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle; but they are also having to cater to a belief on the part of those in government's inner circle who have convinced themselves that the gravity of the threats demands that the United States not engage in any protracted debate, that it prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Though the official Washington mantra has always been "we don't discuss war plans," here is a real life predicament that cries out for debate: In classic terms, military strength and contingency planning can dissuade an attacker from mounting hostile actions by either threatening punishment or demonstrating through preparedness that an attacker's objectives could not possibly be achieved. The existence of a nuclear capability, and a secure retaliatory force, moreover, could help to deter an attack -- that is, if the threat is credible in the mind of the adversary.

But the global strike contingency plan cannot be a credible threat if it is not publicly known. And though CONPLAN 8022 suggests a clean, short-duration strike intended to protect American security, a preemptive surprise attack (let alone one involving a nuclear weapon option) would unleash a multitude of additional and unanticipated consequences. So, on both counts, why aren't we talking about it?

Author's e-mail: warkin@igc.org

William M. Arkin, who writes frequently about military affairs, is the author of "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World" (Steerforth).


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