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Will the President Push a Preemptive Button?

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As our ears prick to the drumbeat of Bush v. Iran, a highly respected researcher from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) warns that Washington is edging toward a policy of nuclear preemption, and Teheran knows it.

Although the post 9/11 doctrine of USA military strategy known as "Global Strike" is often promoted as a post nuclear plan, Hans M. Kristensen finds documentary evidence that a "nuclear option" is included.

In a timeline released by FAS on March 15, and so far reported only by long-time disarmament activist Sanford Gottlieb's op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, Kristensen concedes that the USA may be reducing the size of its huge nuclear-weapon stockpile.

However, writes Kristensen, "Global Strike is first and foremost offensive and preemptive in nature and deeply rooted in the expectation that deterrence "will" fail sooner or later. Rather than waiting for the mushroom cloud to appear, a phrase used several times by the Bush administration, the Global Strike mission is focused on defeating the threat before it is unleashed."

So while the USA stockpile is down to about 5,000 or 10,000 nuclear warheads, Kristensen argues that planners of the new regime in military strategy, "simultaneously have created a new mission that reaffirms the importance and broadens the role of nuclear weapons further by changing or lowering the perceived threshold or timing for when nuclear weapons may be used in a conflict. That threshold must be different than in the past, otherwise why include a nuclear option in CONPLAN 8022?"

CONPLAN 8022 is the Pentagon's contingency strike plan that Kristensen is tracking through freedom of information requests. He calls CONPLAN 8022, "a new strike plan developed by STRATCOM [the Pentagon's Strategic Command, tasked with taking the lead in matters of weapons of mass destruction] in coordination with the Air Force and Navy to provide a prompt global strike options to the President with nuclear, conventional, space, and information warfare capabilities."

Kristensen could have also mentioned that the language and logic of CONPLAN looks very much like the thing suggested in 1997 by a blue-ribbon National Defense Panel (NDP) that included top-level military brass and the now recently departed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

"Rogue states and terrorists, perhaps armed with weapons of mass destruction, may attempt different kinds of attacks, not only on our forces abroad, but in our homeland, in urban areas and perhaps space," warned the first paragraph of the NDP press release on Dec. 1, 1997. While the NDP report encouraged nuclear disarmament agreements such as SALT III, the framework of diplomacy was presented as a stratagem that would have to make do until the USA achieved technological superiority:

"Given the evolving threat and continued improvement of our missile defense technology, a hedging strategy, rather than immediate deployment of a missile defense system, is a sensible approach," said the NDP report. "But, it is important that we proceed in a way that permits rapid deployment if threats should develop and our technologies mature."

The NDP report encouraged the military to "experiment" with solutions to the "power projection challenge" that would be faced in tough cases of threat by missile, when the USA would not have, in the words of one panelist, "access to forward bases, ports, airfields, facilities." Of course, that was years before 9/11.

Kristensen's timeline marks June 2004 as the point where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orders the implementation of CONPLAN 8022 so that the president of the USA could be enabled with, "a prompt, global strike capability." Rumsfeld's order was issued approximately one year before release of the Downing Street Memo alleges that the president of the USA has been fixing his facts to meet the needs of his trigger finger.

Six weeks after Rumsfeld gave the order, writes Kristensen, "on August 17, STRATCOM published Global Strike Interim Capability Operations Order (OPORD) which changed the nature of CONPLAN 8022 from a concept plan to a contingency plan. In response, selected bombers, ICBMs, SSBNs, and information warfare units were tasked against specific high-value targets in adversary countries. Finally, on November 18, 2005, Joint Functional Component Command Space and Global Strike achieved Initial Operational capability after being thoroughly tested in the nuclear strike exercise Global Lightning 06."

What this alphabet soup spells out is a process that brings "Global Strike" into operation through military exercises that confirm the readiness of nuclear missiles launched from land, sea, and air. The next "war game" in this series is scheduled for April.

The release of Kristensen's timeline coincided with a scheduled hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. But the hearing was postponed at the last minute.

Says Kristensen, "Because the question of the scope of and assumptions about nuclear weapons use in the Global Strike mission has profound implications for U.S. military strategy and international affairs, it is vital that the Congress, the media, and the public in general get better answers."

Thanks to the din of Bush v. Iran, however, Kristensen's plea for sunlight has not yet been answered. Meanwhile, a contract to provide infrastructure for CONPLAN 8022 is scheduled to be awarded in December.
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Greg Moses is a member of the Texss Civil Rights Collaborative and editor of The Texas Civil Rights Review. He writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time.

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