May 26, 2005

We don't know how we managed to miss this story.

But finding it this week is especially appropriate, given one of this week's other nuclear-related stories: how the US government was distributing an 'amended' history of nuclar arms control measures at the conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. That history somehow left out a couple of important international measures that Dubya's administration has rejected.

Today's story also deals with how the current administration is dealing with nuclear weapons. According to this May 15 article by military analyst William Arkin, the US military has been preparing to carry out pre-emptive attacks that may involve the use of small nuclear weapons on North Korea and (very likely) Iran. Such a 'global strike' could be carried out by forces under control of the US Army's Strategic Command (Stratcom) within a half-day of their being authorized by the president.

According to Arkin, the inclusion of nuclear weapons in the Dubya administration's global strike plans blurs the line traditionally set by US policy, which has held that the appropriate role of nuclear weapons is as a deterrent against attack from another nuclear power. But, since 9/11, the Dubya administration's concern with preventing future attacks on the US has led the administration to consider the use of nuclear weapons as part of a pre-emptive attacks.

A good example of how the nuclear/conventional line has blurred, says Arkin, is Stratcom's CONPLAN 8022-02, which deals with responding to 'imminent' threats from countries such as North Korea or Iran.

CONPLAN 8022 anticipates two different scenarios. The first is a response to a specific and imminent nuclear threat, say in North Korea. A quick-reaction, highly choreographed strike would combine pinpoint bombing with electronic warfare and cyberattacks to disable a North Korean response, with commandos operating deep in enemy territory, perhaps even to take possession of the nuclear device.

The second scenario involves a more generic attack on an adversary's WMD infrastructure. Assume, for argument's sake, that Iran announces it is mounting a crash program to build a nuclear weapon. A multidimensional bombing (kinetic) and cyberwarfare (non-kinetic) attack might seek to destroy Iran's program, and special forces would be deployed to disable or isolate underground facilities.

By employing all of the tricks in the U.S. arsenal to immobilize an enemy country -- turning off the electricity, jamming and spoofing radars and communications, penetrating computer networks and garbling electronic commands -- global strike magnifies the impact of bombing by eliminating the need to physically destroy targets that have been disabled by other means.

The inclusion, therefore, of a nuclear weapons option in CONPLAN 8022 -- a specially configured earth-penetrating bomb to destroy deeply buried facilities, if any exist -- is particularly disconcerting. The global strike plan holds the nuclear option in reserve if intelligence suggests an "imminent" launch of an enemy nuclear strike on the United States or if there is a need to destroy hard-to-reach targets [Emphasis ours]

Can you see part of the slippery slope there? Nuclear weapons can be used against hard-to-reach targets, not just in cases where an attack on the US appears to be imminent.

Arkin makes a direct connection between the US experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq and the increasing fascination with tactical nuclear weapons on the part of the Pentagon and Defense Department — especially with the fact that the heavy commitment of troops to the Iraq occupation has stretched US military resources almost to the breaking point.

As U.S. military forces have gotten bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, the attractiveness of global strike planning has increased in the minds of many in the military. Stratcom planners, recognizing that U.S. ground forces are already overcommitted, say that global strike must be able to be implemented "without resort to large numbers of general purpose forces."

When one combines the doctrine of preemption with a "homeland security" aesthetic that concludes that only hyper-vigilance and readiness stand in the way of another 9/11, it is pretty clear how global strike ended up where it is. The 9/11 attacks caught the country unaware and the natural reaction of contingency planners is to try to eliminate surprise in the future. The Nuclear Posture Review and Rumsfeld's classified Defense Planning Guidance both demanded more flexible nuclear options.

Global strike thinkers may believe that they have found a way to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle; but they are also having to cater to a belief on the part of those in government's inner circle who have convinced themselves that the gravity of the threats demands that the United States not engage in any protracted debate, that it prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

There's much more of interest in Arkin's article. We suggest reading it all.

Via Washington Post.

Posted by Magpie at May 26, 2005 03:33 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |