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U.S. Plan Envisioned Nuking Iran, Syria, Libya

By Spencer Ackerman, TPMmuckraker

Despite years of denials, a secret planning document issued by the U.S. military's nuclear-weapons command in 2003 ordered preparations for nuclear strikes on countries seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including Iran, Saddam Hussein-era Iraq, Libya and Syria.

A briefing (pdf) on the document obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, showed that the document itself was created to flesh out a 2001 Bush administration revision of long-standing nuclear-weapons policy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review. That review was a Defense Department-led attempt to wean nuclear policy off a Cold-War focus on Russia and China, but the shift raised questions about what purpose nuclear forces would serve apart from deterring an attack. In March 2002, leaks indicated that the review would recommend preparations for nuclear attacks against WMD-aspirant states. Arms Control Today pointed out at the time that planning to attack non-nuclear states that were signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty reversed decades of U.S. nuclear policy.

The administration's response was to deny that the review moved the U.S. from deterrence to a first-strike posture. After the leaks, the Defense Department issued a statement in March 2002 saying cryptically, "This administration is fashioning a more diverse set of options for deterring the threat of WMD. ... A combination of offensive and defensive, and nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities is essential to meet the deterrence requirements of the 21st century." Speaking to CNN around the same time, General Richard Myers, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Nuclear Posture Review was "not a plan, it's not an operational plan. It's a policy document. And it simply states our deterrence posture, of which nuclear weapons are a part." Vice President Dick Cheney said at the time that the notion that the review paved the way for "preemptive nuclear strikes" was "a bit over the top."

But that now looks to be an explanation too clever by half. Perhaps the review itself didn't contain operational plans. But guidance documents created to flesh it out did.

One such document is known as OPLAN 8044 Revision 03. That document is an update of the basic nuclear-weapons plan, formerly known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan. It was created by the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom), which has responsibility for nuclear-weapons planning, doctrine and maintenance. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Federation of American Scientists obtained a briefing on how Stratcom's OPLAN 8044 Revision 03 changed the nuclear-policy paradigm. For the first time in U.S. nuclear history, plans for nuclear attack on regional targets around the world were included in the basic nuclear war planning document.

It's not entirely easy to tell from the planning document what WMD-desiring countries are listed as targets for a possible U.S. nuclear attack. (See page 11 for all the redactions on this crucial point.) But the FAS hazards an educated guess based on photography included in the briefing document: Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria.

The briefing document also references a "target base" for prospective elimination with nuclear weapons. However, the actual document redacts what that target base might be. FAS contends it probably refers to either the stockpiles of WMD themselves or the command center for any state seeking to deploy WMD. And that's a further sign of specific planning for a full-blown nuclear conflict, the FAS writes: "The creation of a 'target base' indicates that the planning went further than simple retaliatory punishment with one or a few weapons, but envisioned actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD."

It's difficult to tell whether OPLAN 8044 Revision 03 is still in place. A further revision of the plan, known as Revision 05, was still in effect as recently as July. "Presumably," writes FAS, Revision 05 carries with it planning for nuclear strikes on Iran, North Korea and Syria.

The new glimpse of OPLAN 8044 Revision 03 comes at an awkward time for the Bush administration. Just last week, a State Department official at an international arms conference met with rebuke for suggesting that U.S. nuclear forces weren't on "hair-trigger alert," even though the U.S. nuclear arsenal is known to experts to be capable of launching within minutes of an order. Certainly Iran, North Korea, and Syria are wondering at whom those weapons are currently aimed.


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Isn't the defense department supposed to be planning for ANY possible scenarios that may develop? You are calling this evidence? If anything it is evidence of someone in government actually doing something. I fail to see anything in your diatribe that is surprising or even remotely incriminating. When playing chess one must think through all possible options.

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