WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 - The Pentagon is preparing new guidelines governing the use of nuclear weapons that foresee possible pre-emptive strikes against terrorist groups or nations planning to use unconventional weapons against the United States.
The draft document, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, updates procedures for using nuclear weapons that were last changed in 1995. The plan is undergoing final review by the Pentagon's joint staff and by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and it could be finished in the next several weeks, according to a Pentagon official. The document was first reported by The Washington Post.
Much of the document restates longstanding procedures for launching a nuclear strike, including declarations that such a decision requires explicit presidential approval.
A Pentagon official confirmed that a copy of the document posted on the national security Web site GlobalSecurity.org was authentic.
The Bush administration said in 2002 that a pre-emption strategy was necessary to deal with emerging threats from terrorist groups seeking unconventional weapons and from the proliferation of nuclear capability to numerous countries.
Although the unclassified document reasserts the longstanding American position that it will not make definitive statements about when nuclear weapons will be used, it describes several scenarios for using them, including circumstances under which pre-emptive use might be necessary.
The scenarios for a possible attack described in the draft include one in which an enemy is using "or intending to use" unconventional weapons against the United States, its allies or civilian populations. Another scenario for a possible pre-emptive strike is in the event of an "imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy."
The draft document also envisions the use of atomic weapons for "attacks on adversary installations," including "deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons."
A copy of the draft document dated March 15 was posted on a Pentagon Web site for several months but was removed over the summer, according to the Pentagon official, who said he could not explain why it was taken down.
The draft says that to deter a potential adversary from using unconventional weapons, the United States must make it "believe the United States has both the ability and will to pre-empt or retaliate promptly with responses that are credible and effective." The draft also says American policymakers have "repeatedly rejected calls for adoption of 'no first use' policy of nuclear weapons since this policy could undermine deterrence."