- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The recent publication (in the pages of this newspaper) of classified portions of the U.S. government's Nuclear Policy Review that was alleged to be evidence of a purported shift in U.S. nuclear strategy touched off a spate of stories on the dangers of putting rogue states in America's nuclear crosshairs. In story after story, arms-control advocates and unnamed foreign officials warned of a policy that would "turn upside down" longstanding U.S. nuclear doctrines, and "make America more likely to use" nuclear weapons.

To be sure, the chance to quote from leaked passages of the highly classified National Policy Review may be news. But the policy shift these stories purport to prove is anything but new, and is very much in the tradition of the deterrence doctrine that has guided U.S. nuclear policy since the Soviets got the bomb.

According to nuclear strategist Hans Kristensen, as early as March 1991 the month Operation Desert Storm ended the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that nuclear weapons, until then largely trained on Soviet and Chinese targets, "could assume a broader role globally in response to the proliferation of nuclear capability among Third World nations." In fact, since the United States divested itself of chemical and biological weapons, by policy, our nuclear arsenal constitutes the sole deterrent against use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) of any kind. By 1992, in the Department of Defense Annual Report, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney wrote: U.S. nuclear strategy "must now also encompass potential instabilities that could arise when states or leaders perceive they have little to lose from employing weapons of mass destruction."

Indeed, this new orientation survived the change from the first Bush presidency to the Clinton administration; in the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, the notion that U.S. nuclear assets should target rogue states possessing such weapons was formalized into the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP) that governs our nuclear target list.

Proof that the Bush administration is continuing this policy even while adjusting it to the constantly evolving efforts of rogue states to acquire WMD ("adaptive planning," in the jargon of both the Clinton and Bush II administrations) is less a sign of shifting policy, than the extension of bipartisan continuity now more than a decade old.

But now, the problem is different. While the United States must still be able to deter a massive nuclear strike by Russia or China, its principle concern is the rogue regimes that are seeking to produce or procure nuclear weapons, and who might use them to threaten their neighbors or the United States should we seek to intervene on behalf of our allies and friends. These rogues could also channel them to terrorists. Just as we signaled the Soviets in the Cold War era, a signal today that the United States would respond with "all means necessary" to attacks involving WMD would make even the most desperate states aware of the consequences of aiding and abetting terrorists. For this reason alone, wherever rogue regimes hold sway, we ought to add known WMD storage sites and research facilities to our nuclear target list.

As a result of the war on terrorism and the nuclear ambitions of rogue states, a counter-WMD focus now shapes our nuclear posture. This is not new. The real question is: What sort of strategic force is called for? Clearly, the United States will need an arsenal large enough to execute any strike scenario envisioned, with an accent on high-accuracy land-based systems, capable of providing a diverse range of discreet targeting options. Also, to give our deterrent continued credibility, we'll need to focus on new nuclear systems, weapons with low yields but capable of destroying buried, bunkered or otherwise fortified WMD facilities.

Long-term, such considerations should shape our defense programs, the budget process and the public debate. Near-term, there's nothing wrong and quite a lot right with a policy that puts rogue actors on notice that using weapons of mass destruction against our people or our troops will elicit the strongest possible U.S. response. Indeed, getting that word out to America's adversaries might be so important that it might even be worth leaking the story.


Daniel Goure is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and has served as deputy director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and in the secretary of defense's Office of Strategic Competitiveness.

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