Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations
The updated version
of Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (Joint Pub 3-12) was scheduled
for publication August 15, 2005. Yet issues remain, and the publication
date slipped again. The document is already more than
two years overdue
(publication was initially planned for October 2003, see graph below).
Sources at the
Pentagon now anticipate publication later in the fall.
Despite the delay, the second final coordination draft
from March 2005 is mature enough to permit an analysis of the content of
the final document. Some things will likely change in the final
document, but at this late a stage they are anticipated to be cosmetic
and not significantly change the content of the document. Once the final
document is published, this analysis will also be updated.
The new doctrine incorporates preemption into joint nuclear
doctrine for the first time, lowers the threshold for nuclear use further by
reducing the level of hostilities where U.S. nuclear weapons might be used,
endorses a role of nuclear weapons against all forms of weapons of mass
destruction, endorses a role of nuclear weapons against terrorists, and
describes missile defenses as a means of defending nuclear forces rather than
people against attack.
The new doctrine incorporates the findings of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review and the 2002
National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. It reflects the impact
of 9/11 on U.S. strategic thinking with a focus on all WMD threats whether from
countries or non-state actors. As a result of these
developments, the updated Joint Pub 3-12 has been changed
significantly compared with the previous versions of the document.
The decision to update the doctrine dates back to
March 2001, when the Joint Staff issued a
program directive directing consolidation of Joint Pub 3-12 and
Joint Pub 3-12.1 (theater) into a single Doctrine for Joint Nuclear
Operations to guide employment of both strategic and non-strategic
(theater) nuclear forces.
Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (Joint
Pub 3-12) states that it should be revised "no later than 5
years after development." Yet updating the 1995 version
has taken double that time. Moreover, since completion of the Nuclear Posture
Review in December 2001, the estimated completion date for
the revision has slipped nearly two
years from October 2003 to August 2005. During the same
period, half a dozen nuclear guidance documents have been
issued by the White House and the Pentagon (see
The format of the new nuclear
doctrine has changed considerably from
the 1995 version. It is 22 pages longer because of a new chapter on
theater nuclear operations, a discussion of the role of conventional and
defensive forces, and an expanded discussion on nuclear operations.
The addition of a chapter on theater
nuclear operations reflects the post-Cold War preoccupation of U.S.
nuclear planners on finding ways of deterring regional aggressors (i.e.
rogue states) armed with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. It
also reflects a decade-old rivalry between the regional combatant
commanders and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) over who "owns"
regional nuclear strike planning. The document shows that STRATCOM today
has responsibility for more than half of the phases in the theater
planning support process.
The new doctrine’s approach
grants regional nuclear strike planning an increasingly expeditionary
aura that threatens to make nuclear weapons just another tool in the
toolbox. The most extreme example of this is nuclear preemption, which the
enshrines into official U.S. joint nuclear doctrine for the first time
by describing at least four scenarios where geographic combatant
commanders might request Presidential approval for use of nuclear weapons
nuclear preemption, the objective no longer is deterrence through threatened
retaliation but battlefield destruction of targets with nuclear weapons
first in anticipation that
deterrence will fail. The use of nuclear weapons
might occur at a much lower intensity level than envisioned during the Cold
War, and the new doctrine replaces "war" with "conflict"
to describe the lower intensity of hostilities that could involve the
use of U.S. nuclear weapons in post-Cold War nuclear battlefields.
Unlike the two previous versions of the doctrine from
1995, however, the new doctrine does not mention a need for weapons with lower
yields. The paragraph included in
the previous version has been deleted.
Instead, lower yields are mentioned in the section that discusses reducing
nuclear collateral damage as a matter-of-fact potential capability:
Another noticeable change is the incorporation of a
discussion of the role of conventional weapons and defensive forces into
the sections describing the purpose, planning, and employment of nuclear
forces. This reflects the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which directed
creation of a "new triad" with nuclear weapons portrayed as constituting
only part (together with advanced conventional weapons) of one of the
legs in the triad. A second leg, the NPR said, would be missile defense,
and together the two (conventional weapons and missile defenses) would
reduce the role of nuclear weapons by providing the president with other
response options than nuclear retaliation.
techniques for reducing nuclear collateral damage may include lower
yield weapons, improving accuracy, employing multiple smaller
weapons, adjusting the height of burst, and offsetting the desired
Four years after completion of the
NPR, however, advanced conventional capabilities and missiles defenses
that can reduce the role of nuclear weapons appear to remain a future
and the revised doctrine reminds that "some contingencies will remain
where the most appropriate response may include the use of US nuclear
More than describing a reduced role of nuclear weapons, the
revised doctrine appears to see another objective: how advanced
conventional weapons and missile defenses can be used to increase the
survivability and effectiveness of U.S. offensive nuclear forces.
Indeed, throughout the document, protection of nuclear forces appears to
have priority over protecting people.
The revised doctrine also eliminates all references to
"countervalue targeting." The
1995 version described countervalue targeting as a strategy that
"directs the destruction or neutralization of
selected enemy military and military-related activities, such as
industries, resources, and/or institutions that contribute to the
enemy’s ability to wage war." But countervalue is missing from the new
doctrine because STRATCOM determined that it violates international law.
STRATCOM initially proposed renaming countervalue to critical
infrastructure targeting, but this was rejected by the other commands.
Name change or not, critical infrastructure targeting is central to WMD deterrence and
the new Global Strike war planning and continues.
Reaffirmation of Nuclear Deterrence
Beyond and above the individual new elements incorporated into the
revised doctrine, the core
nuclear mission remains surprisingly similar to that described in previous
versions of the document. As such, the major reduction in the role of nuclear weapons promised
by the Bush administration in 2001-2002 is not evident from the revised doctrine.
Instead, the new
Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations
is opportunistic by deepening existing missions and carving out new
roles for nuclear weapons. Despite While House rhetoric
about reducing the role of nuclear weapons,
the new doctrine
reaffirms the importance of maintaining an aggressive nuclear posture of
continuously modernized forces on a high readiness level capable of
destroying -- even preemptively -- targets anywhere on the globe. See
» Walter Pincus, "Pentagon
Revises Nuclear Strike Plan," Washington Post, September
11, 2005, p. A1.
"New Doctrine Falls Short of Bush Pledge,"
Arms Control Today, September 2005.
See also examples of news coverage.
The official reaction: Pentagon Top Rejects Criticism.