home about


in the news links sitemap site updates






This web site is best
viewed in full screen
(1024x768) and
medium font with
Internet Explorer 5 or
higher and Netscape
6 or higher.


powered by


Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations, February 1996

Update (Feb. 2, 2006):
Pentagon Cancels Doctrine Documents

After public exposure, the Pentagon has formally cancelled Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Theater Operations and three related documents. Go here for more information.

Cancellation follows public exposure of the doctrine in Arms Control Today and the Washington Post and a protest letter to President Bush from 16 lawmakers.

Efforts to more clearly align nuclear deterrence with the requirements for regional conflicts resulted in the publication in February 1996 of a doctrine document specifically focused on theater nuclear operations. The Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations (Joint Pub 3-12.1) outlined a regional security situation where the risk of use of nuclear and other forms of WMD was said to have increased after the Cold War:

"The dissolution of the Soviet Union has greatly reduced the possibility of a large scale nuclear exchange. However, the loss of the stability inherent in a clearly bipolar world has increased the likelihood of a nuclear exchange by regional powers. In addition, the threat to the United States, its allies, and its deployed forces due to the proliferation of

 WMD has grown following the end of the Cold War. The flow of advanced technology to potential or actual hostile nations has led to a proliferation of systems (missiles and aircraft) capable of delivering WMD. The possibility of a WMD exchange in a regional conflict has risen dramatically, threatening our forward-deployed forces and challenging our long-range power projection capabilities."

Joint Doctrine

Joint Pub 3-12, 1993
Joint Pub 3-12, 1995
Joint Pub 3-12.1, 1996
Joint Pub 3-12, 2005

The emergence of a specific doctrine for theater nuclear operations followed on the heels of efforts in 1993-1995 within STRATCOM to more clearly define how nuclear deterrence would work against regional aggressors armed with WMD. Foremost among these efforts were attempts by STRATCOM to get overall responsibility for the planning of not only strategy but also theater nuclear strike plans, up until this point a responsibility of the regional CINCs. One attempt of achieving this was the Silver Books project, an effort to use STRATCOM's nuclear targeting expertise to design "books" of WMD target lists tailored for use by the individual regional commands.

October 19, 2005

The 1996 Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations has been removed from the Pentagon's web site. The removal follows critique of the 2005 revision. Also removed was the 1995 Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations.

But the CINCs opposed STRATCOM's efforts to take control, and their opposition was eventually endorsed by JCS in the final Roles and Mission Study from 1995 for the counterproliferation mission. The study concluded that STRATCOM instead would support the CINCs with nuclear planning. For STRATCOM this was half a victory and the command has since gradually attained greater authority on theater nuclear planning (this development is further described in the report U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe).

With its focus on regional nuclear deterrence, Joint Pub 3-12.1 included important details that were not described in Joint Pub 3-12. Foremost among these were the kind of targets that might be subject to nuclear strikes in a regional conflict. Enemy combat forces and facilities that may be likely targets for nuclear strikes, included:

  • WMD and their delivery systems, as well as associated command and control, production, and logistical support units.
  • Ground combat units and their associated command and control and support units.
  • Air defense facilities and support installations.
  • Naval installations, combat vessels, and associated support facilities and command and control capabilities.
  • Nonstate actors (facilities and operation centers) that possess WMD.
  • Underground facilities.

Most of these target categories were "mirrored" from Cold War nuclear targeting onto regional scenarios, but there was one big surprise: "nonstate actors." The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review spent considerable time analyzing the effect of nuclear deterrence against regional opponents, but although the (unfinished) review concluded that nuclear weapons should have a prominent role against "rogue" states armed with WMD, it also concluded that nuclear weapons were unlikely to have any deterrence effect on nonstate actors (see NPR Working Group 5 for details). STRATCOM was a participant in that analysis but apparently did not let the findings affect the language of Joint Pub 3-12.1 which fully endorsed nonstate actors as a target.


With the publication of the new Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (Joint Pub 3-12) in August 2005, the Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations was reorganized in two ways: First, the theater nuclear aspect was incorporated into Joint Pub 3-12; Second, publications Joint Pub 3-12.2 (Nuclear Weapons Employment Effects Data) and Joint Pub 3-12.3 (Nuclear Weapons Employment Data (Notional) have been consolidated into a revised but classified Joint Pub 3-12.1 entitled Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Theater Nuclear Planning.


Hans M. Kristensen/Federation of American Scientists | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2006

download documents:

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations, Joint Pub 3-12-1, February 9, 1996. [0.49 MB]

Message, Joint Staff/J7 to STRATCOM, et al., "Joint Publication 3-12.1 Program Directive," February 8, 2002. [0.19 MB]

background articles:

Hans M. Kristensen, "New Doctrine Falls Short of Bush Pledge to Reduce Nuclear Role," Arms Control Today, September, 2005.

Hans M. Kristensen, "Nuclear Futures: Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and U.S. Nuclear Strategy," BASIC, March 1998.

"Hans M. Kristensen, "Targets of Opportunity," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/ October 1997.

Adobe Acrobat Reader
required to view


  Hans M. Kristensen