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Nuclear Posture Review Working Group 5
(Nuclear Brief July 11,
Deterring "Rogue" States
Are U.S. nuclear weapons suited for deterring
"rogue states" such as North Korea or Iran from using or
developing weapons of mass destruction?
The Relationship Between Alternative Nuclear Postures and Counterproliferation Policy
One of the issues studied by the
1994 Nuclear Posture
Review (NPR) was the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in deterring so-called
"rogue states" from developing or using weapons of mass destruction.
This issue was also prominent in the Bush
administration's NPR from 2001. So far only very little has been
declassified from that review, so documents from the 1994 NPR attain
increased importance both as indicators of what the 2001 analysis may
have considered, and when assessing the validity of the Bush
administration's claims about the role of nuclear weapons.
Both the Bush and Clinton administrations described
their NPRs as dramatically reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons.
Unlike the Bush administration, however, the Clinton administration
denied that its review endorsed a
widening of nuclear scenarios to deter proliferating countries armed
with not only nuclear but also chemical and biological weapons.
Objectives and Main
Working Group 5 of the 1994 NPR was tasked with
examining the relationship
between the nuclear posture and counterproliferation policy. Documents
released under the Freedom of Information Act provide some insight into
the group's work. The
Terms of Reference for Working Group 5 highlighted the following
Potential for mutual
reinforcement between counterproliferation policy and nuclear
Nuclear posture best suited to
deterring proliferation including CTB, role of NUCs against
proliferating countries, viability of classic deterrence strategy
against lesser aggressors, etc.
How does what we do affect what
they do, where there are countries with probability of
proliferating, including but not limited [deleted]?
How does what we don't do affect
what they do, where they are countries with an inclination not to
proliferate including [deleted]?
Working Group 5 was chaired by Mitchel
Waller-stein, U.S. Deputy Assis-tant Secretary of Defense for
telephone roster for Working Group 5 identifies 34 individuals from
a wide range of departments and agencies. There were no "external"
permanent members, however, from outside the defense establishment. In
addition to these individuals, guests would occasionally participate in
the meetings to brief on specific issues. The group was chaired by
Mitchel Wallerstein, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Counterproliferation Policy, who later became Vice
President of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability
at the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Ashton Carter, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International
Security Policy and co-chair of the NPR Steering Group, personally
participated in several of the meetings.
Between October 1993 and July 1994,
Working Group 5 held several dozen meetings to analyze key issues and
provide recommendations for the NPR Steering Group. From working groups
and presentations by members or visiting guests a consensus -- or near
consensus -- gradually emerged on the main issues. These were:
The full range of nuclear
options is desirable to deter proliferant nations.
The unique contribution of
nuclear weapons to counter-proliferation should be stated more
The nuclear posture is unlikely
to affect terrorist use of WMD, unless tied to state sponsorship.
While nuclear weapons deter WMD
use, they are unlikely to have an effect on acquisition of such
Forward deployed nuclear systems
send strong political signals.
The internal process in Working Group
5 involved setting up a number of smaller working groups to study
specific sub-issues and develop recommendations for policy. Five overall
issues were studied:
Acquisition of WMD.
Terrorist use of WMD.
Deterring the deployment and use
of chemical weapons.
Deterring the deployment and use
of biological weapons.
Deterring the deployment and use
of nuclear weapons.
The declassified portions of the
documents suggest that there was little disagreement within Working
Group 5 that nuclear weapons could and should play a role in deterring
proliferators of WMD. Certain aspects of the issue, however, raised more
debate than others.
NPR Analysis: "The nuclear posture is unlikely to affect
terrorist use of WMD, unless tied to state sponsorship."
One aspect concerned whether
different types of WMD (nuclear, biological and chemical) could be
equally affected by nuclear weapons. A "major
issue" was whether chemical weapons should be considered weapons of
mass destruction or a weapon with less lethal mass destruction effect
than nuclear and biological weapons. An attempt by the Office of the
Secretary of Defense to prioritize chemical within WMD (in terms of
lethality and potential use and US responses to such use) generated "major
objection" especially from the military representatives. The
documents suggest, however, that in the end the group considered all
three types of weapons as WMD with equal importance.
Another aspect concerned whether
advanced conventional weapons should be included in the WMD category.
The Bush administration later included them, but a majority in the 1994
review wanted to exclude this technology. In doing so, the
representative from STRATCOM explained why he concurred with this
There is no definition of what
is meant by advanced conventional weapon technology.
The international community has
a ban on WMDs as illegitimate weapons because of their effects, "yet
it is very hard to make apples-to-apples comparison of WMD weapons
to technology, and we should not try to do so."
Such inclusion could, in fact,
block development of weapon systems that could provide the US with
the capability to counter WMDs possessed by a potential adversary.
A third aspect concerned whether
there were other means of influencing use of WMD than nuclear
deterrence. As the work progressed on finishing draft slides with
conclusions and recommendations, Ashton Carter found the work too
focused on identifying nuclear responses. He therefore
instructed the group in February-March 1994 "to suggest possible
political, economic, and conventional deterrent options that could
complement our nuclear posture."
Carter's effort did not change the
main conclusion of the group, however, that nuclear weapons could make a
unique contribution to deterring the use of WMD. But the group
did decide late in the process that the final briefing should focus
more on deterring and responding to WMD use, and put less
emphasis on WMD acquisition and terrorist use.
Despite these internal issues, the
majority of the members of Working Group 5 wanted to more forcefully
state the unique contribution that nuclear weapons could play in
The role of STRATCOM
As the unified command responsible
for maintaining and executing the strategic nuclear strike plans,
STRATCOM's role in the 1994 NPR process was unique. Not only was it
represented within Working Group 5 itself, but it also provided
formal external answers to the group's questions about the nature of
deterrence and nuclear forces. Following meetings, STRATCOM would
summarize the discussions and findings in an Update Briefing which
complemented the minutes from the actual meetings (see the documents in
the right-hand bar).
STRATCOM saw the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in
deterring "rogue states" as another "tool in the toolbox" of
U.S. deterrence options.
STRATCOM's answers in a way preempted
Working Group 5's conclusions by providing answers to the questions the
group were tasked to analyze. Nuclear forces have a role in deterring
proliferators' use of WMD, STRATCOM stated, and should be thought of as
"tools in our 'toolbox' of deterrence options."
For nuclear counterproliferation
missions, STRATCOM emphasized a "value-based" deterrence posture that
targeted "those elements of power (i.e. political, industrial and
economic infrastructure, and military capabilities) which underpin their
power, both political and coercive."
When asked which elements make the
U.S. posture most effective and credible in deterring WMD use, whether
particular nuclear systems or certain deployment patters matter,
STRATCOM explained to the group:
At lower levels [than a large
Russian scenario], a marriage of national policy and various
attributes of our nuclear forces enhance our deterrence strategy
across many possible WMD scenarios. Weapon system responsiveness,
flexibility, ability to deploy, survivability, and overwhelming
firepower are among these attributes. The characteristics, tied with
a national policy implying the U.S. will retaliate appropriately at
a time of its choosing, are important considerations in deterring
Nth country actors in their calculations to use or threaten WMD use.
Within certain scenarios, forward
presence serves to enhance perceptions of U.S. capability. A
potential proliferator's perceptions are certain to vary when a
system is deployed in theater. An "on-the-scene" or rapidly
deployable nuclear force offers the potential of providing a more
"visible" and viable theater response than a force residing in the
U.S. Also, certain forward deployed assets and systems (i.e. gravity
bombs) can be more responsive than a CONUS-based equivalent.
Forward forces provides [sic] the
opportunity to integrate with allies on a periodic basis, and, in
the case of dual capable weapon systems, adds to deterrence by
creating uncertainty of whether nuclear assets are actually
while extending an umbrella of protection and signal of U.S.
commitments to allies, forward presence transmits a [sic] equally
strong message to any potential proliferators. These contributions
serve to increase the deterrent value of a nuclear force.
Contradictions With 2001 NPR
Some of STRATCOM's answers to the
1994 NPR appear to contradict key assumptions made by the Bush
administration's NPR in 2001. Foremost among these is whether additional
nuclear capabilities are needed at all to counter proliferant nations.
STRATCOM bluntly told Working Group 5:
context of a regional single or few warhead detonation, classical
deterrence already allows for adaptively planned missions to counter
any use of WMD."
In contrast, the Bush
administration's NPR says that new nuclear capabilities must be
developed to maintain a credible deterrence, and that adaptive planning
capabilities must be modernized to better plan regional missions against
regional aggressors. Yet STRATCOM's answer suggests that sufficient
adaptive capability was already in place in 1994.
Adaptive Planning Claims Don't
1994 NPR Analysis: "Within the context of a
regional single or few warhead detonation, classical
deterrence already allows for adaptively planned missions
to counter any use of WMD."
2001 NPR Analysis:
"Greater flexibility is
needed with respect to nuclear forces and planning than was
the case during the Cold War....A more flexible planning
system is needed to address the requirements of adaptive
While the Bush administration claims that
more adaptive planning capability is needed, STRATCOM stated
during the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review that adaptively
planned missions can counter "any use of WMD."
Another issues concerns the Bush
administration's conviction that a strong nuclear posture "capable of
striking a wide range of targets throughout an adversary's territory may
dissuade a potential adversary from pursuing threatening capabilities."
But STRATCOM's answer to the 1994 NPR appeared much more ambivalent about this
"Our nuclear deterrent posture
does not influence these reasons to obtain WMD except, by
maintaining nuclear weapons we can support political aims. This is
accomplished through demonstrating intent by maintaining an arsenal
and continuously providing war plans to support regional CINCs."
"Nth countries faced with the
U.S. nuclear deterrent capability coupled with political intent may
chose not to follow the course of a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS)."
The contradictory answers appear to
reflect a conclusion that a strong U.S. nuclear posturing toward
proliferating nations could work both ways. Some nations might feel
dissuaded from acquiring WMD, "yet others will feel it is necessary to
have WMD in order to deal with the U.S. on a more equal footing,"
STRATCOM stated. Indeed, Working Group 5 concluded that "While nuclear
weapons deter WMD use, they are unlikely to have an effect on
acquisition of such weapons."
The Bush administration did not share this view and
instead made dissuasion of WMD
one of the pillars of its "assure, dissuade, deter, and defeat"
In the case of the Korean peninsula,
where the U.S. deployed nuclear weapons for over 30 years, Working Group
5 was convinced that the nuclear posture had not effected North
Korea's pursuit of WMD. "Has removal of nuclear weapons from Korea/off
naval ships impacted proliferation," chairman
Mitchel Wallerstein asked the group. The reply was an unconditional
"No!" The 2001 NPR, in contrast, assumes that an overwhelming posture
can dissuade proliferating nations from pursuing WMD capabilities.
Using nuclear weapons to deter non-nuclear NPT
member states from using chemical and biological weapons
violates the Negative Security Assurances under the
Outcome of the 1994 NPR
Working Group 5 periodically briefed
its findings to the NPR Steering Group, which was tasked to coordinate
the work of the six working groups. By the late spring of 1994, Working
Group 5's efforts focused on completing a declaratory policy briefing to
be presented first to Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch and Joint
Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Admiral William Owens, and next to
Secretary of Defense William Perry and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman
John Shalikashvili. The intention was for the Steering Group to
incorporate the findings and recommendations of Working Group 5 with
those of the other five working groups into a final report to the
Secretary of Defense.
Before the NPR process was finished,
however, the review collapsed, the working groups dispersed, and no
final document was ever produced. It is therefore unclear to what extent
Working Group 5's conclusions and recommendations were carried forward
to influence nuclear policy. Nevertheless, Working Group 5's endorsement
of a role for U.S. nuclear weapons in deterring "rogue states" armed
with weapons of mass destruction appears to have become U.S. nuclear
policy anyway because support for such a role was widespread within the
planning community. When the NPR was
briefed to Congress in September 1994, one of the roles described
for nuclear weapons was to deter WMD use and acquisition.
Yet this expanded role was downplayed in
public at the time partly because it would have undermined the Clinton
administration's efforts to gather sufficient international support for
an indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995.
So-called Negative Security Assurances (a pledge not to threaten or
attack with nuclear weapons) to non-nuclear NPT member states were part
of the glue that held the treaty together. But the 1994 NPR advocated
threatening and if necessary using nuclear weapons against several
non-nuclear NPT member states, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
After the extension was secured, the
role of using nuclear weapons to deter "rogue states" has become a
prominent public justification for maintaining and modernizing nuclear
weapons, not only for the United States but also for France, Russia, and
the United Kingdom.