A winnable nuclear war? New Pentagon document shows US military thinks so

The Pentagon document laying out the US doctrine of nuclear operations was publicly available for about a week, then made ‘official use only.’ What’s inside is a chilling reminder that Washington sees nuclear war as winnable.

“Nuclear Operations,” or Joint Publication 3-72, was dated on June 11 and made private since, but not before it was downloaded by Steven Aftergood, an activist at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). It is currently available on the FAS website as a PDF.

The publication “provides fundamental principles and guidance to plan, execute, and assess nuclear operations.” The rest of it is in the same matter-of-fact tone, even when discussing practical consideration of potentially world-ending weapons.

“That kind of thinking itself can be hazardous. It can make that sort of eventuality more likely instead of deterring it,” Aftergood told the Guardian on Wednesday.

Arguably, the US military’s job is to consider all possibilities, and the decision whether to use nuclear weapons is ultimately in civilian hands – in this case, those of President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has paid a lot of attention to nuclear matters, updating the US Nuclear Posture Review last year and earmarking funds for modernizing the US “nuclear triad”: bombers, land-based missiles and submarines. However, Trump has also announced the US would leave the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia by next month. The fate of the New START arms control treaty with Russia, set to expire in February 2021, is very much up in the air.

In such circumstances, the Joint Chiefs doctrine stating that “Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” might be taken as a cause for alarm, and with good reason.

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