The New U.S. First Strike Nuclear Doctrine

The Gangster Logic of "Unilateral Assured Destruction"

Revolutionary Worker #1144, March 24, 2002, posted at

The Pentagon has developed a new U.S. nuclear doctrine that directly threatens much of the world with nuclear attack.

Leaks from the secret government "Nuclear Posture Review" reveal that the U.S. ruling class is prepared to use nuclear weapons first, against any country that seriously challenges them-- including against many countries that don't have nuclear weapons of their own. The report lists a whole series of countries and scenarios where it thinks the U.S. should be prepared to use nuclear first strikes.

The plan includes a sweeping proposal for developing many new kinds of "battlefield" nukes--including nuclear bunker busters that seem intended to threaten Iraq in the immediate future. And, with this change of doctrine, the U.S. is announcing its intention to tear up more international arms control treaties, and many people are predicting that this will unleash a new global nuclear arms race involving as many as a dozen countries.

The U.S. is the first and only country ever to use nuclear weapons--in the terrible attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the past, the U.S. had detailed plans for nuclear war-fighting, and it has developed a "full spectrum" of nuclear weapons from massive city-killers to much smaller nuclear artillery shells and landmines. But never has the U.S. so openly and coldly pointed them at a long list of countries across the world.

Because they are threatening many poor and weaker countries that have little capacity for any nuclear counterattack, the U.S. government says it is moving away from a situation of "mutual assured destruction"--referring to the situation they dealt with facing the Soviet Union, where a nuclear strike by one side might well trigger a successful nuclear retaliation by the other side.

Now, this new policy is being called "unilateral assured destruction"--a case of bloody global gangster logic. "This is an offer you can't refuse." And if you refuse, the U.S. is saying, to countries large and small, it is prepared to use any level of war necessary to crush anyone who opposes them--including nuclear first strikes.

These plans are creating shock waves around the world for obvious reasons--because the world's only superpower is so loudly proclaiming its ability and willingness to point its nuclear sword at a long list of countries. And because this ugly new doctrine shows so clearly that the current U.S. moves are not about "defense" but about tightening the U.S. control over the people, the economies and the wealth of the whole world.

Naming Names

The Pentagon's new "Nuclear Posture Review" was given to Congress in January.

It has been signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and according to the Los Angeles Times (March 9) it "is now being used by the U.S. Strategic Command to prepare a nuclear war plan." Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has described it as "prudent military planning."

Only parts of it have now been leaked to the public. The rest remains top secret. But the known parts are criminal enough.

First, the new doctrine names names--of countries and scenarios. It specifically mentions China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria as potential nuclear targets. This is the first time the U.S. government has openly threatened a list of countries.

It is important to note how extreme this is. The Cuban missile crisis--when the U.S. threatened nuclear attack on Cuba and the Soviet Union--is still the subject of jittery TV shows. The decision by President Jimmy Carter to change U.S. nuclear policy and consider nuclear attacks to control Persian Gulf oil was considered such a big deal that it was given the name "The Carter Doctrine."

Now the U.S., in one cold move, is threatening about a third of humanity with nuclear weapons--including the two largest countries in the world--China and Russia. The fact that they are officially allied with the U.S. in its current war apparently doesn't matter to the Pentagon. The Nuclear Posture Review document specifically mentions confrontations over Taiwan as a situation where U.S. nuclear attack would be considered--a clear reference to China.

This new doctrine also coldly threatens smaller third world countries, including the major oil- producing countries Iran and Iraq--neither of which have their own nuclear weapons. The leaked text says that the U.S. would consider a nuclear first strike against Iraq if it was involved in an attack on Israel. Meanwhile, Israel has a major nuclear weapons stockpile and has been threatening its neighbors with these bombs for decades--including Iraq.

The Bush White House recently took Libya off the official list of "countries that sponsor terrorism" because of its support for current U.S. war moves. Apparently even such pro-imperialist support does not exclude Libya's people from nuclear targeting.

The new doctrine lists three situations in which nuclear weapons could be used: against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack; in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; or "in the event of surprising military developments."

This is nothing but more naked gangster logic. Boiled down to its essence it means: The U.S. intends to use nukes whenever it can't get its way by other means--including if someone inflicts a "surprising" military setback on U.S. forces or U.S. allies.

The U.S. typically describes all its wars and war preparations as "defense." Its huge nuclear arsenal has historically been described as a way to "deter" nuclear war--by supposedly making nuclear exchanges between nuclear powers "unthinkable." But the U.S. is now openly acknowledging that it is prepared to use nuclear weapons for a wide range of war-fighting to impose its decisions all over the world. This aggressive empire's talk of "deterrence" and "self-defense" is wearing very very thin.

Making Nukes Easier to Use

The new U.S. doctrine calls for expanding its arsenal of battlefield nuclear weapons and developing a new generation of these smaller nukes. The goal is to increase the integration of nuclear weapons even more directly into the battlefield weaponry of U.S. forces.

Arms expert William Arkin writes, "The end product is a now-familiar post-Afghanistan model--with nuclear capability added. It combines precision weapons, long-range strikes, and special and covert operations."

A researcher at the Natural Resources Defense Council told the New York Times (March 10), "Despite their pronouncements of wanting to slash nuclear arms, the Bush administration is reinvigorating the nuclear weapons forces and the vast research and industrial complex that support it." The White House has proposed increasing the U.S. military budget by $48 billion, and clearly intends to use part of that to create new nuclear attack forces.

In particular, the U.S. had difficulty assassinating Sadaam Hussein in their earlier Gulf war-- because of his buried command bunkers. Now they are openly looking at new nuclear weapons as a way of killing the heads of opposing governments. The Pentagon's new document says, "New capabilities must be developed to defeat emerging threats such as hard and deeply-buried targets ..."

The Los Angeles Times (March 10) reports, "The review calls for research to begin next month on fitting an existing nuclear warhead into a new 5,000-pound `earth penetrating' munition... It calls for `a new strike system' using four converted Trident submarines, an unmanned combat air vehicle and a new air-launched cruise missile as potential new weapons."

All this underscores that there is nothing abstract or theoretical about this new Pentagon doctrine. This is about current events and current plans. The U.S. government is openly preparing a new attack on Iraq--possibly for this year--and this report confirms that they are considering nuclear attacks on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Rejecting the Treatiesof the Past

The U.S. government has declared it does not intend to be bound by international treaties. It withdrew from the Kyoto treaty on global warming, and it simply announced that it intended to end the 1972 ABM treaty that was intended to stop an arms race in anti-missile systems.

Now, this new doctrine directly threatens two other treaties the U.S. had supported--the ban on nuclear testing and the 1974 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

There is widespread talk that the U.S. intends to start nuclear testing again--in order to refine its new generation of nuclear weapons. It is widely believed that this would trigger a global rush of nuclear weapons testing and development--as many countries joined the U.S. in refining their own nuclear weapons.

A key component of U.S. policy on "nonproliferation" was that it promised never to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers who had signed the nonproliferation Treaty (unless those countries were working "in alliance with a nuclear weapon state").

Now the U.S. is simply discarding that promise--and openly threatening non-nuclear powers like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea (who signed the Nonproliferation agreement) with first strike nuclear attack.

These global nuclear treaties--on nuclear testing and nonproliferation--were promoted by the U.S. for decades--because they were a way of keeping a nuclear monopoly in the hands of a few imperialist countries. Now, apparently, the U.S. is no longer satisfied with those old arrangements--because it doesn't want any restrictions on itself, and on its own ability to develop and use nuclear weapons. And because it believes that cold, naked military threat is a better way to keep other countries in line. More hard gangster logic from a superpower drunk with arrogance.

Nuclear attack, even nuclear first strike against poor third world countries, is no longer supposed to be "unthinkable." It is now, as the Godfather once said, "just business."


"...even the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. imperialists, which is a real possibility through the course of this whole thing, is not any guarantee that they're going to be able to resolve everything in the way that's favorable to them--it could just unleash a whole other level of forces wildly out of control. And within all this, to whatever perverse and monstrous extent the imperialists' unleashing of destruction is carried and whatever forms it takes, the forces of the people, worldwide--and in particular the revolutionary forces of the international proletariat and the international communist movement--will have to be working something radically different and better out of all this."

Bob Avakian, chairman of the RCP
"The New Situation and the Great Challenges"

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