[Last update: 8 March 2002]

U.S. puts 7 nations on contingency list for nuclear attack
Plan offers 3 scenarios, including 'surprising military developments,' in which arms may be used

by Paul Richter

Los Angeles Times Saturday, March 9, 2002

WASHINGTON The Bush administration has told the military to prepare contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against at least seven nations and to build smaller nuclear bombs for use in certain battlefield situations, according to a classified Pentagon report.

The report, provided to Congress on Jan. 8, says the Pentagon needs to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Iran and Libya. It says the weapons could be used in three types of situations: against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or "in the event of surprising military developments."

A copy of the report was obtained by defense analyst and Los Angeles Times contributor William Arkin.

Officials have long acknowledged that they had detailed nuclear plans for an attack on Russia. However, this "Nuclear Posture Review" marks the first time that an official list of potential target countries has come to light, analysts said. Some predicted the disclosure would set off strong reactions from the target countries.

"This is dynamite," said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear arms expert at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "I can imagine what these countries are going to be saying" at the United Nations.

Arms control advocates said the directives on developing smaller nuclear bombs might signal that the Bush administration is more willing to overlook a longstanding taboo against using nuclear weapons except as a last resort. They warned that such moves could destabilize the world by encouraging other countries to develop nuclear weapons.

"They're trying desperately to find new uses for nuclear weapons, when their uses should be limited to deterrence," said John Isaacs, president of Council for a Livable World.

"This is very, very dangerous talk. . . . Dr. Strangelove is clearly still alive in the Pentagon."

But some analysts noted that the Pentagon must prepare for all possible contingencies, especially at a time when dozens of countries, and some terrorist groups, are engaged in secret weapons development programs.

They argued that smaller weapons have an important deterrent role because many aggressors might not think that U.S. forces would use big weapons that would cause huge devastation on surrounding territory and friendly populations.

Some argue the Pentagon needs a full range of weapons that potential enemies think might actually be used against them.

Officials also have often spoken of the advantages of using nuclear weapons to destroy deep tunnel and cave complexes.

"We need to have a credible deterrence against regimes involved in international terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction," said Jack Spencer, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He said the contents of the report didn't surprise him, and represented "the right way to develop a nuclear posture for a post Cold War world."

A Pentagon spokesman declined comment because the document is classified.

The report says the Pentagon should be prepared to use nuclear weapons in an Arab-Israeli conflict, in a war between China and Taiwan, or in an attack from North Korea on the south. They might also become necessary in an attack by Iraq on Israel or another neighbor, it said.

The report says Russia is no longer officially an enemy. Yet it acknowledges that the huge Russian nuclear arsenal, which includes roughly 6,000 deployed warheads, and perhaps 10,000 smaller nuclear weapons, remains of concern.

Congress requested the reassessment of the U.S. nuclear posture in September 2000. The last such review was done in 1994 by the Clinton administration.

The new report is being used by the U.S. Strategic Command to prepare a nuclear war plan.

Since the Clinton administration's review is also classified, no contrasts can be drawn with the new one. However, analysts portrayed the report as representing a break with earlier policy.

Bush administration officials have publicly provided only sketchy details of their nuclear review, emphasizing the parts of the policy suggesting the administration wants to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.

U.S. policy-makers have generally indicated that the United States wouldn't use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states unless they were allied with nuclear powers.

They have left some ambiguity about whether the United States would use nuclear weapons in retaliation for strikes with chemical or nuclear weapons.

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