U.S. Army officials have told congressmen in secret briefings over the past few months that they want "pre-clearance" for using tactical nuclear weapons in the Central European battlefield of the future because "they are fearful . . . presidential clearance will come too late," according to Rep. Norman W. Dicks (D-Wash.).
At present, the president himself must authorize use of any nuclear weapons before they can be fired. In the case of nuclear weapons to be used in Western Europe, the president is committed to discuss any decision beforehand with his North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.
No change in these procedures is officially being studied at the Pentagon, according to sources there.
Army commanders have argued before that they needed pre-clearance for short-range systems, out of concern that they would be overrun by attacking Soviet forces.
Previous presidents have refused to give away their authority, despite Army assertions that it could take up to 24 hours between a field commander's request for release of such weapons and the president's response.
Dicks, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said yesterday he was "stunned" by the presentation, which was part of a briefing for congressmen entited "AirLand Battle 2000" and was described by an Army Training and Doctrine Command spokesman as a "look at the doctrine of the future."
Army officials argued that "they needed to have pre-clearance first," Dicks said in a closed congressional hearing, the transcript of which was recently declassified and made public.
An Army spokesman said yesterday that it would like release of nuclear weapons "to come earlier in the battle," but he questioned whether officials have told congressmen that they want it "before the battle had begun."
In an interview, Dicks said defense officials testifying at a closed hearing had expressed their preference for pre-release, although the views of Maj. Gen. Niles W. Fulwyler, director of the Army's nuclear and chemical directorate, and Deputy Undersecretary of Defense T. K. Jones were deleted from the published transcript.
Fulwyler did say, according to the recently published hearing transcript, that with pre-delegation of the president's authority to use nuclear weapons "it would be much simpler to plan for that battle...."
In an unclassified version of the "AirLand Battle 2000" briefing, the Army says it expects "the battlefield of the 21st century to be dense with sophisticated combat systems whose range, lethality, and employment capabilities surpass anything known in contemporary warfare....One other aspect of the future battle is drawn from the growing proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons coupled with the enemy's apparent permissive attitude regarding employment of these weapons. It is imperative that forces plan from the outset to fight dispersed on the 'conventional-nuclear-chemical-biological-electronic battlefield.' "
The "AirLand Battle 2000" briefing, which Army sources said was "developed to guide future organizational alignment, doctrinal guidance training and material requirements," could raise new political problems in Western Europe, where this "integrated battlefield" would be located and these weapons used.
As late as last October, American and German officials in Bonn were denying that such a concept as the "integrated battlefield" was anything more than a talking paper. However, U.S. Army officials said yesterday that new Army manuals based on the concept are about to be published.