Pentagon May Have Doubts on Preemptive Nuclear Moves

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 19, 2005

The Pentagon may be having second thoughts about proposed revisions to its nuclear weapons doctrine that would allow commanders to seek presidential approval for using atomic arms against nations or terrorists who intend to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against the United States, its troops or allies.

The draft document, disclosure of which has caused a stir among some members of Congress and arms control advocates, would update rules and procedures for using nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy announced by the Bush administration in 2002. Previous versions of the unclassified doctrine have not included scenarios for using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against WMD threats.

On Sept. 9, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Joint Staff said the draft document was undergoing final clearance from the military services and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and was expected to be signed "in a few weeks" by the Joint Staff director, Lt. Gen. Walter L. Sharp.

But last week, after an article about the draft appeared in The Washington Post, a senior Pentagon official said the doctrine "is a long way from being done. It has a lot of reviews to go through and several changes have already taken place." The official would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio), who called the draft "disturbing" and "representing old, Cold War thinking," said Defense Department officials told him last week that negotiations and discussions on the draft were still underway.

Hobson, who is chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said: "I'm hopeful more rational minds will look at this. It is a very provocative proposal."

The unclassified draft, "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations," is being written under the direction of Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was removed from a Joint Chiefs of Staff Web site early last week after the publicity about it.

The draft document would update military procedures to provide commanders with instructions on how to request permission to use nuclear weapons to preempt a WMD attack, which the draft's authors argued is vital in deterring a terrorist group or enemy nation. An adversary's leadership must "believe the United States has both the ability and will to preempt or retaliate promptly with responses that are credible and effective," the draft said.

Administration officials have argued for several years in favor of research into the robust nuclear earth penetrator -- sometimes called the bunker buster -- which could destroy stockpiles of those weapons even if they were buried in deep, fortified storage sites. A Bush administration Nuclear Posture Review four years ago pointed out that no weapon in the current stockpile could threaten the growing number of targets being buried.

The draft doctrine "is a logical extrapolation from the [Bush] Nuclear Posture Review," said Frank Gaffney, a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, who is president and chief executive of the Center for Security Policy.

Gaffney said the United States has paid too little attention since the end of the Cold War to the doctrine governing the use of nuclear weapons.

Arms control specialists and others have criticized the draft. Some say formally planning to use nuclear weapons preemptively increases the likelihood they will be used. Others said endorsement of preemptive strikes will make it tougher to persuade nonnuclear nations to forgo building an atomic arsenal.

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