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[casi] Bush Approves Nuclear Response
January 31, 2003

Bush approves nuclear response
By Nicholas Kralev

     A classified document signed by President Bush specifically allows for
the use of nuclear weapons in response to biological or chemical attacks,
apparently changing a decades-old U.S. policy of deliberate ambiguity, it was
learned by The Washington Times. Top Stories
    "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," the document, National Security
Presidential Directive 17, set out on Sept. 14 last year.
     A similar statement is included in the public version of the directive,
which was released Dec. 11 as the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass
Destruction and closely parallels the classified document. However, instead
of the phrase "including potentially nuclear weapons," the public text says,
"including through resort to all of our options."
     A White House spokesman declined to comment when asked about the
document last night and neither confirmed nor denied its existence.
     A senior administration official said, however, 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.
      The official, nonetheless, insisted that ambiguity remains "the heart
and soul of our nuclear policy."
     In the classified version, nuclear forces are designated as the main
part of any U.S. deterrent, and conventional capabilities "complement" the
nuclear weapons.
     "Nuclear forces alone ... cannot ensure deterrence against [weapons of
mass destruction] and missiles," the original paragraph 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."
     Before it released the text publicly, the White House changed that same
paragraph to: "In addition to our conventional and nuclear response and
defense capabilities, our overall deterrent posture against [weapons of mass
destruction] threats is reinforced by effective intelligence, surveillance,
interdiction and domestic law-enforcement capabilities."
     The classified document, a copy of which was shown to The Washington
Times, is known better by its abbreviation NSPD 17, as well as Homeland
Security Presidential Directive 4.
     The disclosure of the classified text follows newspaper reports that the
planning for a war with Iraq focuses on using nuclear arms not only to defend
U.S. forces but also to "pre-empt" deeply buried Iraqi facilities that could
withstand conventional explosives.
     For decades, the U.S. government has maintained a deliberately vague
nuclear policy, expressed in such language as "all options open" and "not
ruling anything in or out." As recently as last weekend, Bush administration
officials used similar statements in public, consciously avoiding the word
     "I'm not going to put anything on the table or off the table," White
House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said on NBC's "Meet the Press,"
adding that the United States will use "whatever means necessary" to protect
its citizens and the world from a "holocaust."
     But in the paragraphs marked "S" for "secret," the Sept. 14 directive
clearly states that nuclear weapons are part of the "overwhelming force" that
Washington might use in response to a chemical or biological attack.
     Former U.S. officials and arms control experts with knowledge of
policies of the previous administrations declined to say whether such
specific language had been used before, for fear of divulging classified
information. But they conceded that differences exist.
     "This shows that there is a somewhat greater willingness in this
administration to use a nuclear response to other [non-nuclear weapons of
mass destruction] attacks, although that's not a wholesale departure from
previous administrations," one former senior official said.
     Even a slight change can make a big difference. Because it is now
"official policy, it means that the United States will actively consider the
nuclear option" in a military conflict, said Daryl Kimball, executive
director of the Arms Control Association.
     "This document is far more explicit about the use of nuclear weapons to
deter and possibly defeat biological and chemical attacks," he said. "If
someone dismisses it, that would question the entire logic of the
administration's national security strategy against [weapons of mass
     Mr. Kimball said U.S. nuclear weapons "should only be used to deter
nuclear attacks by others."
     A senior official who served in the Clinton administration said there
would still have to be a new evaluation before any decision was made on the
use of nuclear weapons.
     "What this document means is that they have thought through the
consequences, including in the abstract, but it doesn't necessarily prejudge
any specific case."
     Baker Spring, a national security fellow at the Heritage Foundation,
said the classified language "does not undermine the basic posture of the
deterrent and does not commit the United States to a nuclear response in
hypothetical circumstances. In a classified document, you are willing to be
more specific what the policy is, because people in the administration have
to understand it for planning purposes."
     Both former officials and arms control analysts say that making the
classified text public might raise concerns among Washington's allies but has
little military significance. On the other hand, they note, the nuclear
deterrent has little value if a potential adversary does not know what it can
     They agree that there must have been "good reasons" for the White House
to have "cleaned up" the document before releasing it. They speculated on at
least three:
     Although responding to a non-nuclear attack by nuclear weapons is not
banned by international law, existing arms-control treaties call for a
"proportionate response" to biological and chemical attacks. The question is,
one former official said, whether any nuclear response is proportionate to
any non-nuclear attack.
     Second, naming nuclear weapons specifically flies in the face of the
"negative security assurances" that U.S. administrations have given for 25
years. Those statements, while somewhat modified under different presidents,
essentially have said the United States will not use nuclear weapons against
a non-nuclear state unless that state attacks it together with a nuclear ally.
     Finally, publicly and explicitly articulating a policy of nuclear
response can hurt the international nonproliferation regime, which the United
States firmly supports. That sets a bad example for countries such as India
and Pakistan and gives rogue states an incentive to develop their own nuclear
     William M. Arkin, a military analyst, wrote in the Los Angeles Times
earlier this week that the Bush administration's war planning "moves nuclear
weapons out of their long-established special category and lumps them in with
all the other military options."
     Mr. Arkin quoted "multiple sources" close to the preparations for a war
in Iraq as saying that the focus is on "two possible roles for nuclear
weapons: attacking Iraqi facilities located so deep underground that they
might be impervious to conventional explosives; and thwarting Iraq's use of
weapons of mass destruction."
     He cited a Dec. 11 memorandum from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
to Mr. Bush, asking for authority to place Adm. James O. Ellis Jr., chief of
the U.S. Strategic Command, in charge of the full range of "strategic"
warfare options.
     NSPD 17 appears to have upgraded nuclear weapons beyond the traditional
function as a nuclear deterrent.
     "This is an interesting distinction," Mr. Spring said. "There is an
acknowledgment up front that under the post-Cold War circumstances,
deterrence in the sense we applied it during the Cold War is not as reliable.
I think it's accurate."

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