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.
Hobson said such negotiations would be difficult "with these kinds of policies out in public."
On Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in Berlin for a meeting of NATO defense ministers, told reporters he hopes Rumsfeld would inform him if the new doctrine were adopted.
"Lowering the threshold for use of atomic weapons is in itself dangerous," Ivanov said. "Such plans do not limit, but in fact promote, efforts by others to develop" nuclear weapons, he said, according to Reuters.
Joseph Cirincione, who directs nonproliferation activities for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that under the draft doctrine, "the policy shifts more to operational planning. Rather than theoretical ideas, the doctrine requires the military to have actual plans."
He noted that in 1991 President George H.W. Bush withdrew all tactical weapons from the Army, including 2,000 nuclear artillery shells in Europe. He also took them off Navy ships, and removed them from the Far East, leaving only a few hundred tactical nuclear bombs in Europe. The new doctrine, Cirincione said, "is a leap back to the views of the 1950s, when President Eisenhower moved from city-busting weapons to those for battlefield use."
One former senior combatant commander said that planning for preemptive use of nuclear and conventional weapons was included in past doctrinal statements, but never in unclassified versions. "This is just a draft, but represents the lack of expertise on the part of some Pentagon staff members" for including it in an unclassified document, he said.
In addition to envisioning preemptive use of nuclear weapons, the draft document referred to using conventional and nuclear weapons in an integrated way, although details explaining how that would happen remain classified.
"For many contingencies," said the document, "existing and emerging conventional capabilities will meet anticipated requirements; however, some contingencies will remain where the most appropriate response may include the use of U.S. nuclear weapons."
When the draft doctrine was first submitted earlier this year for comment to the military services, Jeffrey Lewis, research fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, said he discovered this Navy response on a Pentagon Web site: "There is repeated reference to how critical it is that nuclear and conventional forces be integrated, but there is no explanation of how to do this."
Lewis said the Joint Staff responded: "Many things remain under development in classified fora, like the integration discussion."