Bush Signs Paper Allowing Nuclear Response; White House Makes Option Explicit to Counter Biological, Chemical Attacks

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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.

"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 "nuclear."

"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. …