New U.S. Guidelines
on Nuclear Warfare
Should be Released to the Public
by David Krieger*, 1998
New guidelines for the use of U.S. nuclear weapons
were signed by the president in November 1997. These guidelines,
which are contained in a four-page Presidential Decision Directive
(PDD), have not been released to the public. Aspects of the guidelines,
however, were leaked to the press and confirmed by administration
officials. What is known about the new guidelines include the
- they were developed entirely in secret without
any public, or even Congressional, discussion;
- they replace guidelines developed in 1981 during
the Reagan presidency;
- they provide that the U.S. will continue to
rely on nuclear arms as the cornerstone of its national security
for the indefinite future;
- they no longer include a plan to fight and
"win" a protracted nuclear war;
- they reserve the right for the U.S. to be the
first to use nuclear weapons;
- they retain the option of massive retaliation
to a nuclear attack, including by launch on warning;
- they give the Pentagon increased flexibility
to deter or retaliate against smaller states that might use
chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. or its allies;
- they provide for the U.S. to maintain a triad
of nuclear forces consisting of bombers, land-based missiles,
and submarine-based missiles;
- they call for the U.S. to retain options to
use nuclear weapons against Russia; and
- they provide for increasing the number of sites
to be targeted in China.
On the positive side, the new guidelines have eliminated
the foolish and hopeless idea that it was possible to fight and
win a nuclear war. This is an idea that has been thoroughly discredited,
even by President Reagan who stated publicly that "nuclear
war cannot be won, and must never be fought." It must also
be considered positive that, due to the leak, we now know something
about these guidelines, and can respond to what has been released.
The negative aspects of these guidelines, however, are substantial.
The fact that they were developed without involvement from the
public and Congress is in the best tradition of a totalitarian
state. On an issue of such major public importance as strategy
for using nuclear weapons, it is reprehensible that no attempt
would be made to solicit public or Congressional views.
By indicating that the U.S. will continue to rely
for the indefinite future on nuclear weapons for its national
security, the U.S. is demonstrating its hypocrisy in relation
to its promise in 1995, when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was
extended indefinitely, to pursue "systematic and progressive
efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate
goal of eliminating those weapons...." Further, the International
Court of Justice ruled in 1996 that there was an obligation to
"bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament
in all its aspects...." Indefinite reliance upon these genocidal
instruments is not consistent with their ultimate elimination,
nor with the obligation to conclude negotiations for complete
In China there was strong criticism of the new
U.S. policy which increases U.S. targeting of China. A Chinese
foreign ministry spokesman stated, "Now that the Cold War
is already over, the international situation has eased a lot.
The United States still possesses a large arsenal of nuclear weapons.
It stubbornly sticks to its policy of nuclear deterrence. It goes
against the trends of peace, cooperation and development in our
The new guidelines reflect the continuation of
U.S. policy to rely upon nuclear weapons as a central instrument
of national security. These guidelines have not changed our policies
of threatened first use or massive retaliation, which at their
core are policies of nuclear genocide. First use, when coupled
with launch on warning, commits us to risky, hair-trigger deployment
of our nuclear arsenal with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The Presidential Decision Directive demonstrates
a lack of commitment to the elimination of our nuclear arsenal,
as called for by international agreements and international law.
The new guidelines will undoubtedly be heavily criticized by the
international community, particularly by many of the other 185
parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty when they meet in Geneva
in April and May 1998.
It would be appropriate for President Clinton to
release in full the four-page Presidential Decision Directive
so that the U.S. public can fully consider and debate the policy.
U.S. citizens have a right to informed consent on decisions and
policies that affect their security and well-being, as this policy
surely does. The public and Congress should be involved in the
process of determining whether or not the new policy is consistent
with basic U.S. values as well as our obligations under international
law and the new geopolitical reality brought on by the end of
the Cold War. In the same vein, the public should be provided
with targeting information for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This
information would allow U.S. citizens to be aware of what populations
are being threatened with mass murder in our names.
While it may be appropriate and desirable for the
President to keep details of his personal life from public view,
the same cannot be said for policies related to nuclear arsenals
that affect the life and future of every U.S. citizen as well
as every other person in the world.
*David Krieger is president
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He can be contacted at PMB
121, 1187 Coast Village Road, Suite 1, Santa Barbara, CA 93108-2794.