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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

Controversial 1995 Pentagon Study on Deterrence Revealed

On 1 March, the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) released a report on US nuclear policy containing extracts from a 1995 study by the Department of Defenses's Strategic Command (STRATCOM) dramatically stressing the importance of a lack of clarity over the issue of potential use of nuclear weapons. The study, entitled Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence and obtained by BASIC through the Freedom of Information Act, states:

"Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the US may do to an adversary if the acts we seek to deter are carried out, it hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational or cool-headed. ... The fact that some elements [of the US government] may appear to be potentially 'out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision-makers... That the US may become irrational and vindictive if attacked if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries..."

Responding to concerns raised by the publicising of the study, Robert Bell, the senior arms control official in the National Security Council, was quoted on 1 March as saying: "That sounds like an internal STRATCOM paper which certainly does not rise to the level of national policy."

Editor's note: see last issue for a critical analysis by Stephen Schwartz of official US policy on the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Report: Military urges US on nuclear arms, Associated Press, 1 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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