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U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: Nuclear Weapons Usage Contributes To Restoration Of Strategic Stability

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U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: Nuclear Weapons Usage Contributes To Restoration Of Strategic Stability

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On June 11th, the US Department of Defense’s Joint Chiefs of Staff published a new edition of the Doctrine on the Use of Nuclear Weapons and deleted it shortly thereafter.

After it was deleted, a notice stated that the Joint Publication 3-73 was available at the Joint Electronic Library+, which is a restricted access website. The Federation of American Scientists managed to keep a publicly available copy and here it is.

The publication itself has some interesting statements such as:

Using 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.”

Apart from very obvious statements such as the abovementioned, the doctrine mentions the possibility to use tactical nuclear weapons to support the US conventional operations.

The following quote is from the section “Operations in a Nuclear Environment,” and in addition to the information below, it also mentions that commanders should be aware how the nuclear weapons can affect personnel and that using such a weapon has tangible implications with a scope much larger than just the explosion.

“d. The spectrum of nuclear warfare may range from tactical application, to limited regional use, to global employment by friendly forces and/or enemies. The use of a nuclear weapon in support of even tactical operations requires detailed planning at all levels. Whatever the scenario for employment of nuclear weapons, planning and operations must not assume use in isolation but must plan for strike integration into the overall scheme of fires.

e. Employment of nuclear weapons can radically alter or accelerate the course of a campaign. A nuclear weapon could be brought into the campaign as a result of perceived failure in a conventional campaign, potential loss of control or regime, or to escalate the conflict to sue for peace on more-favorable terms. The potential consequences of using nuclear weapons will greatly influence military operations and vastly increase the complexity of the operational environment.

f. Integration of nuclear weapons employment with conventional and special operations forces is essential to the success of any mission or operation.”

Furthermore, the nuclear weapons allow the US President to “escalate or de-escalate a conflict,” in addition to providing simple deterrence against adversaries using nuclear weapons against Washington.

“Joint forces provide flexibility and employment options that allow the US to provide effective deterrence and, if necessary, execute missions against the spectrum of potential targets. Flexibility allows the President to engage the enemy with the capability of escalating or de-escalating a conflict. Flexibility, such as that offered by long-range bombers and dual-capable fighter aircraft, is important because deterrent credibility hinges on having a convincing capability to execute a variety of nuclear and non-nuclear options. Furthermore, nuclear-capable aircraft offer the greatest degree of flexibility in the triad because they can be a highly visible sign of resolve and, once ordered to conduct a nuclear strike, are recallable.”

Thus, the US more than anything wishes to present the notion that it is prepared to use its nuclear weapons to defend itself, to the point that such actions may be taken to simply “restore strategic stability.”

“Developing nuclear contingency plans sends an important signal to adversaries and enemies that the US has the capability and willingness to employ nuclear weapons to defend itself and its allies and partners. The US is prepared to take actions to restore strategic stability, limit damage, and/or terminate the conflict on the best achievable terms for the US, its allies, and partners.”

In essence, the US nuclear forces serve four general purposes according to the doctrine:

  • Deter nuclear and nonnuclear attack;
  • Assure allies and partners;
  • If deterrence fails, achieve US objectives;
  • Hedge against an uncertain future.

The US maintains a triad of strategic nuclear forces consisting of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers. Each system provides strength to the US nuclear force posture through unique and complementary attributes. Further, the strategic triad reduces the possibility that a technical problem in any one leg of the strategic triad or adversary technical advancement will leave the US at a strategic disadvantage.

In addition, if all else fails:

The US and select North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies maintain dual-capable aircraft capable of delivering nuclear or conventional weapons in support of national strategic extended deterrence objectives and bolstering regional deterrence.

Meaning that a retaliation may come even from a NATO ally that has dual-capable aircraft, which is able to deliver a US nuclear weapon.

In conclusion, the new doctrine has the aim of providing for the development of nuclear contingency plans. These plans would provide:

  • Tailored deterrence options, as a basis for dialogue between planners and decision makers before a crisis arises.
  • An opportunity to identify intelligence requirements.
  • A means to assess the anticipated effectiveness of options prior to execution.
  • A means to assess the nature and extent of unintended consequences.
  • The ability to rapidly implement select, flexible deterrent options and, if needed, predetermined nuclear employment options.

The doctrine itself doesn’t really provide anything new in terms of strategy, but it simply proves that the US is ready to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in a regional conventional conflict to reach its goals, and it is officially its doctrine. Notwithstanding, Russia is being accused of wishing to do so in some conflicts, and is turned into “the bad guy,” despite Russia’s nuclear doctrine stating the complete opposite of what the US one sets forth.

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