U.S. Nuclear Policy from Reagan to Clinton: A Continuum of Terror

By F.H. Knelman, Ph.D.

The U.S. does not want total nuclear disarmament. It wants nuclear supremacy.

In the mid-80s it became clear that the Reagan administration had abandoned deterrent policy and adopted a nuclear war-fighting, war-winning strategy. As my book, America, God and the Bomb1 showed, the U.S. had programmed and legitimized the first-strike use of nuclear weapons even in a conventional conflict, as well as pre-emptive strikes.

This went beyond the mere threat of using nuclear weapons exclusively to deter a nuclear attack on the United States. It was, in fact, a plan to use nuclear weapons in a variety of conflict scenarios. Given the intrinsic nature of these weapons, their use would indeed be a violation of international law, including the crime of genocide and involving the failure to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, military and non-military targets - a truly disproportionate response. There were plans to destroy the Soviet Union and to establish a form of Pax Americana for the consolidation of U.S. power over the entire planet.

Nuclear Policy Reviews

After the Reagan years, I continued to analyze the nuclear policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations, including the period following the demise of the Soviet Union and the full emergence of a unipolar world.

There have been several nuclear posture reviews (NPRs) since 1988, when George Bush became President. Some of them projected new global policies adapted to the end of the Cold War, but the nuclear war-fighting/winning strategy of first use/strike remained inviolate through to the present period of the Clinton administration. There was necessarily a shift in focus and in the identification of potential enemies. The attempt to save the hypothesis of the Cold War involved inventing a variety of new enemies and exaggerating their threat to security, as the U.S. appointed itself global cop prepared to intervene anywhere on the planet. If Saddam Hussein had not existed, the U.S. certainly would have invented him.

The New York Times of March 8, 1992 first revealed this new U.S. global policy. The strategy was to legitimize the use of force and intimidation; to dominate the Western World; to exact acknowledgment of the U.S.'s global policing role; and to neutralize the former Soviet Union as a potential nuclear contender. This last objective involved buying off large numbers of technical nuclear experts; radically reducing the Soviet arsenal; and making certain that it no longer targets the United States.

Nevertheless, the U.S. was not above agreeing that the Soviet Union remain a nuclear power. Thus former Secretary of State James Baker, in a further patent attempt to save his nuclear hypothesis, urged Russia to maintain a deterrent role even though there was no one to deter.2 In effect, the U.S. does not want total nuclear disarmament. It wants nuclear supremacy. And to dispel the notion that the radical new Pentagon policy, as reported in The New York Times, is not the aberrant musing of a single Dr. Strangelove, a reading of current strategic literature reinforces our hypothesis of a new nuclear Pax Americana. The chief adviser to the Pentagon's senior nuclear weapons official, Thomas F. Ramos, argued that the Gulf War could have led to the use of nuclear weapons if Iraq had possessed any - and hence that "conventional weapons cannot be a credible deterrent against a nuclear-armed adversary who has the will to use them."3 We are now back to the doctrines of nuclear war-fighting developed in the secret agenda of the Reagan administration.

A New Targeting Program

A sinister group, the Strategic Deterrence Study Group, chaired by Thomas Reed, a former Secretary of the Air Force and a member of Reagan's National Security Council staff, circulated a report in the Fall of 1991, recommending that a new targeting program serving Bush's "new world order" should target "every reasonable adversary" around the planet and create a nuclear expeditionary force to counter "nuclear weapon states that are likely to emerge" and "despotic" states that seek to deter the United States from interfering in their regional aggressions. Iraq is cited as a typical case. But this criminal sanitation and legitimation of nuclear weapons goes even further by recommending the first use of nuclear weapons, stating that "we are not comforted that we can count on deterrence to deal with many lethal Third World threats." The Reed Report, as it is known, also recommends first use of nuclear weapons as a response in case of a chemical or conventional attack, urging the U.S. to "retain an option to leave ambiguous whether it would employ nuclear weapons in retaliation to gross acts on the part of the aggressor." This is a combination of nuclear threat and blackmail, giving the U.S. the right to define such ambiguous terms as "gross acts" and "nuclear states that are likely to emerge," which sanctifies pre-emption.4

Pentagon's Nuclear Hitlist

The proponent of this strategy is the highly-placed Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff which generates the Single Integrated Operating Plan (SIOP), the Pentagon's global nuclear hit list. They also urge the development of a series of high tech, low-yield battlefield nuclear weapons which are alleged to have minimum collateral damage targeting single sites (i.e. bunker-busting, earth-penetrating, etc.) and to position these all over the globe. For those naive enough to believe in the decline of the nuclear threat, this should dispel their dream. All of this new policy, of course, discounts any radiation hazards, the so-called "collateral damage." There is a desperate need, in light of these sinister developments, to obtain a legal declaration on the criminality of nuclear weapons, even when they are designed for mini-mass destruction.

New Role for Global Police

The U.S. is merely inventing new enemies and new potential enemies and a new role of global police. This role was described in a leaked Pentagon document to The New York Times of February 17, 1992. This described seven future war-fighting scenarios and seven plans for forces to fight 2.5 major wars simultaneously, including an all-out nuclear war.

The industrial parts of the military-industrial complex, represented by some of the major corporations in the U.S. are, of course, using all their influence to support the Pentagon. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee was refused copies of the above secret document on the basis that it was classified. So much for civil control of the military in the U.S.! That country is trimming its arsenal of redundancy, enhancing its effectiveness and redesigning it to fight the above wars. The U.S. will continue to invent enemies to justify its nuclear strategies; the peace dividend and environmental sanity will be sacrificed in this mad search for domination. That this reality is not taken into account in Canada-U.S. relations of all kinds is a pity, since we surely appear to be willing accomplices.

The shift in U.S. military doctrine that began with the publication of the document "Discriminate Deterrence" and matured through the Reed Report has evolved still further in recent years. As early as 1989 the focus became one of a "regional defense strategy" and later, in the post-Cold War period, with a new strategic targeting plan. Basic to this was the decision not to reduce their combined strategic arsenal to less than the combined forces of the U.K., France, and China and numerical parity with the Russians. The major goal was to develop a "nuclear expeditionary force" to be used against any country developing weapons of mass destruction, threatening the use of such weapons and, of course, plans to use them. The war scenarios were reduced from the ridiculous one of seven simultaneous wars to two, including a major war. General Lee Butler, Strategic Commander for Targeting and Planning, is the ultimate unregenerate nuclear warrior. The plan includes the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states who constitute a threat to the U.S. or to a U.S. vital strategic interest, such as oil resources. The key strategic weapon is the Trident, to eventually have a force of 18 with a total of 3,000 warheads. The precise wording of "flexible response," the cornerstone of NATO policy, has been retained. However, NATO, itself, in July 1991, developed a euphemistic term, "last resort," modified by the qualifier that there are "no circumstances in which nuclear retaliation in response to military action might be discounted." This sounds flexible enough.

Start II Treaty Under Threat

There are no indications that Clinton altered the new U.S. doctrine. Moreover, the Russians have now abandoned their "no first use" policy and undoubtedly will match the U.S.'s "last resort" doctrine. This will assure a nuclear war at a time of escalating conflict. And now the START II treaty is under threat.

The terminology for the two war strategy is WIN-HOLD-WIN (WHW) - to fight two large regional wars, not at the same time, but to use military forces to win in one region while air power and limited ground forces would be used to hold the line in another.5 This WHW strategy would require a minimum of 10 aircraft carriers. Both of these large regional wars would involve the use of nuclear weapons, as required, and the application of the "nuclear expeditionary force." The latest information is that the Clinton administration has adopted the above strategies (the essence of the Reed Report) but has increased their capacity to fight and win two simultaneous wars. They are also planning to develop a Star Wars system which has led the Russians to rethink their ratification of START II.

U.S. post-Cold War nuclear policy and its role of maintaining the U.S.'s power in a unipolar world was developed by the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff Advisory Group, chaired by Thomas Reed, former Reagan Air Force Secretary. This "Reed panel" had prepared a top secret report describing a comprehensive nuclear targeting plan for the post-Cold War era, which was leaked to the Washington Post, January 5, 1992. This new policy is the clearest formulation for saving the Cold War, but with the new emphasis of nuclear war-fighting directed against Third World insurgencies. The plans call for nuclear strikes against "every reasonable adversary" and upholds the policy of nuclear blackmail to prevent other countries from challenging the U.S., i.e. to "keep nuclear weapons to protect its (U.S.'s) fundamental interests...(including) a healthy and growing U.S. economy. If the United States moves from superpower to being an equal, others may decide to become equal as well." The plan also calls for the seizure of critical raw materials, i.e. oil or foreign domination of a segment of space. It also calls for the creation of a U.S. nuclear expeditionary force to fulfill the above goals. China and other Third World countries are the primary targets. In this way, both U.S. hegemony and the military-industrial complex are protected from the breaking out of peace. President Clinton has made no public disclaimer of the Reed Report. And Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in an appearance on Capitol Hill, called for updating U.S. forces and security arrangements. How can a thoroughly modern military be updated? And the U.S.'s recent threat against North Korea is a direct translation of the Reed Report's preventing nuclear powers "that are likely to emerge."

The Bottoms-Up Review

It is important to evaluate the military posture of the Clinton administration to see if there are any significant departures from the Reagan-Bush nuclear war fighting/winning strategy. This can be understood by examining the so-called "Bottoms Up Review" by Clinton's first Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin.6 First, former Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell depicts Clinton's military strategy as a continuum of the Reagan-Bush schemes, despite the end of the Cold War, except for the list of potential enemies. Of the "ten new dangers" Aspin invented for the post-Cold War era, he even resurrected a return of the Russian threat plus an emphasis on two simultaneous mid-intensity wars in two different regions of the developing world. The Clinton military budget was to be maintained at a rate of over $250 billion per year, dooming any peace dividend. By assuming the U.S. might have to fight in two major conflicts in the next decade, the military budget was once again saved, the estimate of needs for the next decade being only marginally less than the notorious Bush budgets. By 1994, when Clinton's military budget was $285 billion, Russia's had declined to $77 billion and the combined budgets of Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria were $9 billion. The total budget of NATO, the U.S. and their regional allies was $442 billion, compared to $18 billion for regional enemies.7

No Mere Threat of Retaliation

We can see, then, a continuum in nuclear military policy from Reagan to Clinton, with nuclear intervention having become less focused on Russia and more globalized, while still considering a nuclear war with Russia to be possible. In that context we should analyze the concept embodied in the term "threat to use nuclear weapons." In the case of the current U.S. nuclear posture this is not merely a threat of retaliation which was the heart of deterrent policy - "mutually assured destruction." It involves preparations to use nuclear weapons in a variety of conflictual situations above and beyond the mere threat of retaliation. Nuclear weapons were no longer designed to deter but to win wars. An analogy would be that the police stop a car suspected of being involved in a criminal act and find in that car guns, masks, and a map marking a large bank, i.e. showing clear evidence of a crime in process. U.S. nuclear policy is like pointing a gun at a person's head. It is a criminal threat.

If anyone doubts that Clinton's policies are a continuation of those of Reagan/Bush, the former Secretary of Defense and superhawk, John M. Deutch's appearance before a House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 1994 would remove those doubts. (Deutch is now director of the C.I.A.) In sharp questioning with excessive hedging, Deutch reluctantly admitted that the U.S. was prepared to use nuclear weapons against "enemies" whom he refused to identify, but who were not equipped with nuclear weapons. Current Defense Secretary William Perry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Shalikashvili, are committed to these clearly criminal policies.8 I am still uncertain, after many enquiries and several submissions to the World Court, whether the arguments in this paper were used. It appears to me that they would be critical to proving that the threat to use nuclear weapons is criminal under international law. The fact that the Clinton administration amassed a total of over 3,000 Trident nuclear warheads, with a total yield of 450 megatons by the end of 1995,9 is vital proof of its global nuclear first-strike policy. They range the entire oceans of the earth with a huge list of global targets. The euphemism is the need to react to "generic threats" in the absence of any specific genuine threat. The U.S. Navy is an obscene case of over-kill, larger than all the navies in the world put together. Documents available from the U.S. Freedom of Information Act show that, despite the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military presence, even in Canadian ports, is part of its global nuclear war fighting strategy.10 We can only conclude that nuclear arsenals are the Auschwitz of planet Earth. To quote George Kennan, "we have achieved levels of redundancy of such grotesque dimensions as to defy rational understanding" and create what Herbert York terms "the ultimate absurdity," i.e. to base our security on these arsenals.

As final proof of the nuclear powers' assumption that nuclear weapons are legitimate, the U.S., Britain, France, and Russia all testified at the World Court hearing that nuclear weapons, unlike biological and chemical ones, were not weapons of mass destruction and that there was no international treaty against their use. (China did not make a submission.) This ignores the dozens of U.N. resolutions to he contrary. This involved the denial of any collateral damage in the use of nuclear weapons. In effect, the nuclear weapon states conventionalized their nuclear weapons, thus justifying their use even in conventional conflict.


1F. H. Knelman, "America, God and the Bomb," New Star, Vancouver, 1987.
2Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 1991, p. A10.
3Strategic Review, Fall, 1991.
4 W.M. Arkin and R.S. Norris, "Tiny Nukes for Mini Minds," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1992, pp. 24-25.
5 The New York Times, Sunday, May 1993, p. 27A, Michael R. Gordon.
6 J. Isaacs, 1993, "Bottoms Up," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov. pp. 12-13.
7 1994 figures, Center for Defense Information.
8 William Arkin, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan./Feb., 1996.
9 U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan./Feb., 1996.
10 Information Update, Pacific Campaign for Disarmament and Security, No. 40, Feb. 1996.

Peace Magazine May-June 1996

Peace Magazine May-June 1996, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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