U.S. Nuclear Weapons Guidance, War Plans

Article excerpt

The updated Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations reflects how combatant commanders have translated the administration's attempts to reshape U.S. nuclear policy into operational guidance for military forces. It comes nearly five years after the completion of the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in December 2001 and represents the first revision of basic nuclear doctrine in a decade. The list below describes some of the major milestones that led to the new doctrine and their significance.1


May: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld publishes the Strategic Defense Review. This document, among other things, sets "requirements for the number and types of weapons in the stockpile."

December 31: Rumsfeld forwards the NPR report to Congress.


June: The White House issues National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 14, "Nuclear Weapons Planning Guidance."

September 14: The White House issues NSPD 17, "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction." The document states that "[t]he United States will 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."

September 17: The White House issues the "National Security Strategy of the United States." The document provides the first official public articulation of a strategy of pre-emptive action against hostile states and terrorist groups developing weapons of mass destruction.

October 1: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issues a new nuclear supplement to the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan for fiscal year 2002, which translates White House guidance into specific military plans.

December 10: The White House releases "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction," the unclassified version of NSPD 17. The wording in NSPD 17 of using "potentially nuclear weapons" is replaced with "all of our options."

December 16: The White House issues NSPD 23, "National Policy on Ballistic Missile Defense," which orders withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and construction of a national ballistic missile defense system.


January 10: Bush signs Change 2 to the Unified Command Plan, which, in addition to maintaining nuclear strike plans, assigns four additional missions to U.S. Strategic Command: missile defense planning, global strike planning, information operations, and global C4ISR (Command, Control, Computers, Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). …