- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed serious concern about a classified White House document allowing the use of nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapons attack, which was disclosed by The Washington Times.
Citing the Times article, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said in a letter to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the document "appears to be a fundamental change in the U.S. nuclear policy by explicitly stating that nuclear weapons may be used by the United States to respond to a possible chemical or biological weapons attack."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts yesterday said the Bush administration may be lowering the threshold for use of nuclear weapons.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he grilled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in a war with Iraq. Mr. Kennedy said such a move would trigger "a near-total breakdown" in Washington's relations with the rest of the world.
While questioning Mr. Rumsfeld, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan noted the administration's request in the 2004 budget for funds to study nuclear weapons that could be used against deeply buried targets.
"If the United States sends signals that we are considering new uses for nuclear weapons, isn't it more likely that other nations will also want to explore greater use or new uses for nuclear weapons?" Mr. Levin asked.
Congressional sources said yesterday that a joint letter to the White House about the nuclear issue by Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Kennedy is in the works. The two Democratic senators will try to get more of their colleagues to sign it, and its release could take some time, the sources said.
In her letter dated Feb. 4, Mrs. Feinstein wrote of her "deep disturbance" about the classified document, National Security Presidential Directive 17 (NSPD 17), signed by President Bush on Sept. 14.
The document, a copy of which was shown to The Times, states: "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force including potentially nuclear weapons to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."
That statement seems to contradict the decades-long U.S. nuclear policy of deliberate ambiguity, followed by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Contacted the evening before the Jan. 31 article was published, a White House spokesman declined to comment and neither confirmed nor denied the directive's existence.
But a senior administration official said that using the words "nuclear weapons" in the classified text gives the military and other officials, who are the document's intended audience, "a little more of an instruction to prepare all sorts of options for the president" if need be.
Mrs. Feinstein wrote that such retaliation by the United States "should be unthinkable, and responding to a non-nuclear attack with nuclear weapons would violate the principle of proportionate response that has been a central tenet of just war and U.S. military tradition since the birth of our nation."
In the classified document, nuclear forces are designated as the main part of any U.S. deterrent.
"Nuclear forces alone … cannot ensure deterrence against [weapons of mass destruction] and missiles," the text says. "Complementing nuclear force with an appropriate mix of conventional response and defense capabilities, coupled with effective intelligence, surveillance, interdiction and domestic law-enforcement capabilities, reinforces our overall deterrent posture against [weapons of mass destruction] threats."
Mrs. Feinstein told Miss Rice "the United States is a strong nation with conventional military forces capable of dealing with the full spectrum of non-nuclear scenarios."
"I believe that it is critical that the United States uphold an international norm of nuclear restraint, in which our own nuclear forces exist solely as a deterrent against those who would seek to use nuclear weapons against us or our allies," she said.
"If not, we send a message of nuclear incitement to the rest of the world, and we will be seen as willing to cross the nuclear threshold at will and without just cause," the senator wrote.
Mr. Rumsfeld, at the Armed Services Committee hearing, expressed "every confidence" that if war breaks out in Iraq, "we can do what needs to be done using conventional capabilities."
But he said, "our policy historically has been generally that we will not foreclose the possible use of nuclear weapons if attacked."

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