U.S. joint chiefs release alarming nuclear operations document

The Hill Times | July 1, 2019

On June 11, the U.S. joint chiefs released a document simply entitled ‘Nuclear Operations,’ the first such doctrine paper in 14 years, and one that marks a major shift in U.S. military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war.

On June 19, The Guardian and a host of other media reported that on June 11 the U.S. joint chiefs released a document simply entitled “Nuclear Operations,” the first such doctrine paper in 14 years, and one that marks a major shift in U.S. military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war. The document states that “nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

The Nuclear Operations document was taken down from the Pentagon online site after a week, and is now available only through a restricted access electronic library. Before it was withdrawn, it was downloaded by Steven Aftergood, who directs the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood said the new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine, not simply a deterrence doctrine.”

This falls in the wake of the United States Nuclear Posture Review released in February 2018 that expands the role of nuclear weapons by identifying new circumstances in which they could be used, namely in response to “strategic non-nuclear attacks” including cyber-attacks. The Nuclear Posture Review also outlined U.S. plans to mount lower-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-based missiles, increasing the possibility that they might actually be used. Other nuclear-armed states, including India and Pakistan, are following suit.

Many have noted that this change in doctrine and practice runs directly counter to a commitment in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies in order to facilitate disarmament, and to the legal commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament, in good faith.

And of course, all of this is happening as the U.S. and Iran edge closer and closer to war, a war that could draw in Russia, China and other nuclear powers; as the U.S. and Russia are about to formally withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Weapons Forces (INF) Treaty; amidst a new nuclear arms race led by the U.S. with an allocation upwards of $1.5-trillion to modernize its nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years; and technological developments including the aforementioned lower yield nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles that travel at 15 times the speed of sound, missiles roundly considered to be virtually unstoppable.

I feel like the guy wearing an old-style sandwich-board that reads “The End is Near!” But in truth, without being unjustifiably alarmist, it could well be. When the top military commanders of the, militarily, most powerful country on Earth suggest that “nuclear weapons could create the conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” we should all be worried sick and ask ourselves, what can we do—individually and collectively—to prevent this insanity from continuing.

Earl Turcotte is chair of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.