Jeffrey LewisA Nuclear Doctrine That Doesn't Deter

Listen to Rep. Tauscher at
the Carnegie Nonproliferation
Conference in 2005.

Sixteen Democratic members of Congress, including Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), have released a letter to the President expressing concern that a proposed Joint Doctrine on Nuclear Operations would undermine the nonproliferation regime (more from Dave Ruppe).

ACW revealed the existence of the draft Doctrine in April 2005, although the story really gained traction after Hans Kristensen’s article The Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons: New Doctrine Falls Short of Bush Pledge appeared in Arms Control Today and Walter Pincus gave it the A1 treatment in the Washington Post.

The draft doctrine and comments are available in a single .zip file here.

See Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, Joint Publication 3-12, ACW (4 April 2005) and Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (Joint Publication 3-12) Revisted, ACW (11 September 2005).

The signatories warn that “the draft Pentagon doctrine seems to conclude the United States is legally free to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively if it chooses, even against non-nuclear weapon states.”

That sentiment is perfectly captured in a comment by the Joint Staff, striking out some information about where the US would use nuclear weapons:

[W]here the US plans to use weapons is our business—the audience reading this should only need to know that we will use them effectively.

The signatories are worried about the effect on the nonproliferation regime, which is a legtimate concern. I worry about a different problem in US nuclear doctrine—an expansive, ambiguous role for nuclear weapons will undermine deterrence. Tom Schelling, writing forty years ago in The Strategy of Conflict, reminds us:

We have learned the threat of massive destruction deters only if there is a corresponding implicit promise of nondestruction in the event he complies

The draft Doctrine undermines that implicit promise, crossing the line from deterrence to provocation.