More on the US’s nuclear-use posture

This is additional info on whether the US has or doesn’t have a meaningful “no-first-use” posture regarding the use of nuclear weapons, a topic I wrote about briefly here, earlier today.

A good friend sent me this link, which is to a page on the website dated April 1995, that presents the nuclear-use posture of all five of the recognized nuclear-weapons states. For the US it says this:

    The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or any other troops, its allies or States towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State, in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.

This is not an unqualified No First Use statement, though it goes some way to providing the negative security assurances (to non-nuclear states) that are required as part of the NPT’s “Grand Bargain.”
On that web-page, the positions presented by Russia, the UK, and France all look very similar to that one.
China’s NFU position is, by contrast, far less hedged-about and equivocal. It is this:

    China undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances. China undertakes not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapons states or nuclear-weapon-free zones at any time or under any circumstances.

I was disapppointed that that web-page did not give any sources or links for these statements. So I did a little more online research and came up with these resources, which considerably enrich (and substantially change) the picture:
1. Global Security has, on their website, excerpts from a leaked copy of the Nuclear Posture Review of 2001-2002 that was presented to Congress on 31 December 2001 by Secdef Donald Rumsfeld. Given the stature and reputation of Global Security, I am assuming these are accurate excerpts from the document in question, which has never been made fully public.
It includes the following quotes:

    — p.7: “Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important to achieve strategic and political objectives.
    — pp.12-13: “Composed of both non-nuclear systems and nuclear weapons, the strike element of the New Triad can provide greater flexibility in the design and conduct of military campaigns to defeat opponents decisively. Non-nuclear strike capabilities may be particularly useful to limit collateral damage and conflict escalation. Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities).”

I will note the following:

    a. He was stating explicitly that the US nuclear force could be used to deter threats from non-nuclear forces, including both CW or BW threats as well as “large-scale” non-WMD forces. I.e., the US under President George W. Bush does NOT have anything resembling a “no first use” policy.
    b. He was saying the US could even use nukes against “political” objectives. What does that mean??
    c. Planning to use nuclear weapons as part of broader military operations aimed at defeating an enemy is considerably different than planning to use nuclear weapons only as a deterrent against other country’s use of nuclear– or even non-nuclear– weapons.

2. The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s ‘Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations’ of March 2005(advanced draft.) This document was originally scheduled for publication in October 2003, but it became repeatedly delayed. In around September 2005, the people at the Nuclear Information Project got hold of an advanced draft dated March2005. So did the WaPo’s Walter Pincus, and Hans Kristenson of Arms Control Today.
After Pincus and Kristenson wrote about the DJNO document– which called for the first time for the use of US nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike (i.e., in line with Bush’s National Security Strategy of September 2002)– the Senate Armed Services Committee called a hearing on the matter, and publication of the final version of the document was abruptly cancelled.
As the Nuclear Information Project people wrote, though,

    Does the cancellation mean that U.S. nuclear policy has changed? No. The decision to cancel the documents simply removes controversial documents from the public domain and from the Pentagon’s internal reading list. The White House and Pentagon guidance that directs the use of nuclear weapons remains unchanged by the cancellation.

3. Retired US arms control negotiator Jack Mendelsohn’s mid-2002 analysis of the 2001-2002 Nuclear Posture Review is also really useful.
He writes:

    The document… singles out five countries that could be involved in “immediate, potential or unexpected” contingencies [i.e., requiring some form of US nuclear operations]: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya. North Korea and Iraq are characterised as “chronic military concerns.” All five are considered to “sponsor or harbor terrorists, and all have active WMD and missile programs.”
    In addition, the NPR lists China as a country that could be involved in an “immediate or potential” contingency and, while a nuclear strike contingency involving Russia “is not expected,” Russian nuclear forces and programs “remain a concern.” Carrying forward the arguments of the Clinton administration for it’s ‘hedge’ force, the NPR cautions that in “the event that US relations with Russia significantly worsen in the future, the United States may need to revise its nuclear force levels and posture.”
    Keeping open the option to use nuclear weapons in other than a deterrent or retaliatory role is not new. Since at least the Gulf War and during the Clinton administration, the United States has embraced a dual and contradictory policy on nuclear weapons use. The President, through the Secretary of State, declared in 1978 and reaffirmed in 1995 in connection with the review and extension of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that the United States – joined by the other four declared nuclear powers – would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states party to the NPT unless they are allied with a nuclear state in an attack against the United States or its allies.
    The National Security Council (NSC) and the Defense Department, on the other hand, believing that deterrence is strengthened by ambiguity, have for some time taken the position that “no options are ruled out” in response to an attack by any weapon of mass destruction. In 1996, NSC official Robert Bell, in conjunction with the US signature of the Protocols to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (ANWFZ) Treaty, announced that US adherence “will not limit options available to the United States in response to an attack by an ANWFZ party using weapons of mass destruction.” In late 1998, Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, stated that retaining the option to use nuclear weapons against an attack with chemical and/or biological weapons “is simply an issue of making sure that we continue to maintain a high level of uncertainty or high level of concern, if you will, at what the potential aggressor would face if he used [CBW] or indeed took other aggressive acts…”
    The latest round in this policy tango occurred earlier this year when in February Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton called into question the utility of and administration support for the US pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.22 Questioned about Bolton’s comments, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated the most recent version of the negative security commitment (1995) and then added: “We will do whatever is necessary to deter the use of WMD against the United States, its allies, and its interests. If a WMD is used against the United States or its allies, we will not rule out any specific type of military response.”

So I guess I still stand substantially by what I wrote earlier this morning. The US has never been prepared to adopt a clear and unequivocal “no first use” policy (though the declaration of 1995 was a partial step in the right direction.)
These days, of the “Recognized Nuclear Five”, it looks as if only China has an unequivocal NFU policy.

    Update, 9:57 p.m.:

More resources, adduced here because said good friend did refer specifically to Robert McNamara:
4. Robert McNamara writing in Foreign Policy mag, May/June 2005:

    The United States has never endorsed the policy of “no first use,” not during my seven years as secretary [of Defense] or since. We have been and remain prepared to initiate the use of nuclear weapons—by the decision of one person, the president—against either a nuclear or nonnuclear enemy whenever we believe it is in our interest to do so.

5. Robert McNamara, “Defense Arrangements of the North Atlantic Community,” Department of State Bulletin 47 (July 9, 1962), pp. 64-70. Republished here:

    We shall continue to maintain powerful nuclear forces for the alliance as a whole. As the President [JFK] has said, “Only through such strength can we be certain of deterring a nuclear strike, or an overwhelming ground attack, upon our forces and allies.”

Etc., etc.

4 thoughts on “More on the US’s nuclear-use posture

  1. JHM

    Ah, still “Comments (0)”! — is the Just-World-Peacenik commentariat taking the silly season off, then? Have they all rushed away to Newport or Saratoga or what ever fashionable neo-resort tickles their class’s fancy best in August 2007?
    Dr. Cobban stands fast, and that’s admirable, and I really do admire it, but still . . . .
    Miserable unairconditioned worm that I am, even Boston in the 90’s tempts me to rather neglect the Ultimate Fate of the Former Iraq, now about to be decided (or so the advance Big Party billing says) by Dr. Gen. Petraeus and Proconsul R. Crocker in two-hours-of-electricity-per-day, maybe if you’re lucky, Brave New Baghdád where it’s said to be more like 130’s Fahrenheit at worst than mere 90’s at worst in Eastern Massachusetts?
    Why don’t all the militant extremist GOP’s best favored neo-subjects all just lie down and have to pant and sweat like I do, I who am forty degrees of extremism cooler? Only to satisfy some arbitrary aggression-imposed Big Mangamentarian “benchmarks,” the neo-Iraqi OnePercenters are now supposed to hang loyally around “their own” Green Zone in August and not repair to Switzerland or London before complying with this-or-that latest exaction dictated de haut en bas from Rancho Crawford: rehabilitation of the Ba‘th, throwing the Iraq Petroleum Card away forever, abandonin’ Kirkuk to Kurds and Kiddie Krusaders altogether.
    Rather than ever agree to anything so totally outrageous as that Big Management Party program, I might even assume the wings of the dove myself, and just simply fly away forever! I fear I am not quite so flexible as that, bogged down in dismal considerations that tend to inculpate all of America in the Big Party’s miscellaneous invasions and aggressions. I can myself protest with impunity that I never myself personally invasionated the former Iraq at all, yet what’s that to the point, really? My Uncle Sam has undoubtedly invasionated the former Iraq under militant extremist GOP misguidance, and so here we all are.
    What next? What better? Only “Comments (0),” then, it’s only to be then?
    Vix dignum !

  2. Michael Murry

    The Lunatic Leviathan has gotten loose to run amok again. America doesn’t have a grown-up population, an educated citizenry, an honest and competent “political elite,” or even a defensible reason to any longer exist. As Thomas Jefferson said, long ago, during a similar crisis of dictatorial tyranny: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve …”
    Apparently, it has indeed become necessary to dissolve those political bonds Jefferson spoke of, et cetera, since the ones we have now only serve to enslave us.
    The recent, squalid farce of trying to simply “vote away” the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections without actually going to the citizens and asking them to amend the Constitution — the only procedure for Constitutional revision countenanced by the Constitution itself — seals the fate of “The Nation of Sheep” (or “Fate Driven Herd,” if you prefer Charles Beudelaire’s characterization of us.)
    We must look like stupid, cringing cowards to a world that once considered us exemplars of revolutionary freedom. If we can’t do better than Bambi Obama or Buffaloed Girl Clinton “fighting in the captain’s tower” (as Bob Dylan sang of Ezra Pound and T. S. Elliot), then we’ve indeed got only “Desolation Row” ahead of us in our future.
    From “The Best and the Brightest” to “The Worst and the Dullest” in only one generation. When the collapse came, whoever thought it would happen so thoroughly, so fast, and with practically not a rumor of resistance? Our fearless forebears would never in their wildest nightmares have envisioned such inbred invertebrate decendants as us.

  3. Inkan1969

    It was bad enough hearing the Christian Zionists rage to bring on the apocalypse in that other thread. It does no good for Michael Murray to try to yell on apocalypse either, now that he’s deemed us as having no reason to exist. He can’t bring that about no matter how much terrible poetry he writes.

  4. Helena

    Inkan’s comment refers to some lengthy poems that Michael posted as comments here… which I have now deleted.
    Michael! How can you take advantage of a hardworking stiff like me to try to take over this thread with your poems and other sundry reflections??
    I reserve judgment on the quality of the poems. I’ve enjoyed a number of your poems in the past, but didn’t have time to read these ones carefully. But the bigger point, for me, is that they were totally off-topic.
    Before deleting them– zap! gone!– I did however copy that entire portion of the comments board to a back-up file and I am considering putting up a special post called something like “Michael Murry lives here”, in which I’ll put that bunch of text, and to which you can add any more poems (up to a reasonable limit to be defined by me) that you many feel moved to contribute.
    Alternatively, people wanting to read your poetry could just click on your name above.
    Anyway, all of that is my explanation. Please, nobody comment further here on that topic!!
    This thread is to discuss nuclear-use postures. It is, after all, an incredibly important topic.

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