THE CLINTON administration quietly made a significant change in U.S. strategic nuclear doctrine sometime in November by formally abandoning guidelines issued by the Reagan administration in 1981 that the United States must be prepared to fight and win a protracted nuclear war. The new presidential decision directive (PDD), details of which were first reported in The Washington Post on December 7, operates from the premise that the primary role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era is deterrence. In a December 23 interview, Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, provided additional information about the PDD and clarified some misperceptions in the press with respect to the Clinton administration’s policy on “launch on warning” and the use of nuclear weapons against a chemical or biological weapons attack.
Due to its highly classified nature, many specific details about the PDD have not been made public. Nevertheless, Bell confirmed that “We have made an important change in terms of strategic nuclear doctrine in reorienting our presidential guidance away from any sense that you could fight and win a protracted nuclear war to a strategic posture that focuses on deterrence.”
The administration made the decision to rewrite the old nuclear guidelines early in 1997. At that time, General John Shalikashvili, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained to President Clinton that the United States could not reduce its nuclear arsenal to the level that was being discussed for START III (2,000 to 2,500 deployed strategic warheads) and carry out the objectives of the 1981 nuclear guidelines. Bell pointed out that this assumed that the goals of the old guidelines could ever have been realized—a skepticism that has been voiced by former Reagan administration officials. Hence, one key factor influencing the administration’s decision to rewrite the old guidelines was that they were not compatible with the U.S. objective of achieving further strategic force reductions with the Russians.
Moreover, the administration viewed the 1981 guidelines as an anachronism of the Cold War. The notion that the United States still had to be prepared to fight and win a protracted nuclear war today seemed out of touch with reality given the fact that it has been six years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this connection, Bell said the 1981 directive “reads like a document you would expect to have been written at the height of the Cold War, not something that you would want operative today….”
Launch on Warning
Bell said the press had incorrectly indicated that the PDD “still allows” the United States to launch nuclear weapons upon receiving warning of an attack. Bell emphasized that “there is no change in this PDD with respect to U.S. policy on launch on warning and that policy is that we do not, not rely on it.” In fact, Bell said “in this PDD we direct our military forces to continue to posture themselves in such a way as to not rely on launch on warning—to be able to absorb a nuclear strike and still have enough force surviving to constitute credible deterrence.”
Bell pointed out that while the United States has always had the “technical capability” to implement a policy of launch on warning, it has chosen not to do so. “Our policy is to confirm that we are under nuclear attack with actual detonations before retaliating,” he said.
Negative Security Assurances
Bell also dispelled the published report that the PDD expands U.S. nuclear options against a chemical or biological weapons attack. “This PDD reaffirms explicitly, virtually verbatim, the policy of this administration as we stated it the last four or five years, including during the extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], the negotiation of the CTB [Comprehensive Test Ban] and the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” he said.
Specifically, the PDD reaffirms the 1995 statement on negative security assurances issued by Secretary of State Warren Christopher on behalf of President Clinton at the time of the indefinite extension of the NPT. This statement reiterated in a slightly more restrictive form the 1978 statement on the non-use of nuclear weapons issued by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance on behalf of President Carter.
In this context, Bell explained that it is U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first against any state except in three cases. First, “if a state that we are engaged in conflict with is a nuclear-capable state, we do not necessarily intend to wait until that state uses nuclear weapons first—we reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict whether its CW [chemical weapons], BW [biological weapons] or for that matter conventional [weapons],” he said. Under the second scenario, Bell said the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first “if a state is not a state in good standing under the Non-Proliferation Treaty or an equivalent international convention.” Finally, he said if a state attacks the United States, its allies or its forces “in alliance” with a nuclear-capable state, then the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first, even if that state is not a nuclear-capable state and is in good standing under the NPT. Because these three exceptions have existed for some time, Bell said “there is no policy change whatsoever in this PDD with respect to fundamental U.S. position on no first use of nuclear weapons.”
Joel Skousen has been warning of this suicidal policy for years via his WorldAffairsBrief:[This] change to our nuclear strategic doctrine, demanding our missile forces should NOT “launch on warning” in response to an incoming strike, but retaliate afterward— is suicidal. Absorbing a massive first strike would take out all our silo-based missiles (400 + Minuteman III ICBMs with only a single warhead each) and all of our military bases capable of conducting a retaliation.
While a summary of PDD-60 still remains in the ACT archives and on the FAS.org website, the listing of Clinton Presidential Decision Directives (PDD) at the Clinton Presidential Library does not show a PDD-60, because it is classified. There are many others which are still classified which are missing too.
To illustrate how important a launch on warning strategy is, it is a long established nuclear doctrine that he who launches second, before enemy missiles arrive on target, wins the war. That’s because it takes between 15 minutes for a sub launched missile to hit its target and almost 30 minutes for a land based missile in Russia and China to hit US missiles fields. In addition, a warhead’s targeting cannot be changed once it separates from the missile. This time delay in missile trajectory gives just enough time to launch US missiles so that the incoming warheads hit empty silos. US missiles can then be redirected to hit viable enemy targets.
Eliminating Launch on Warning is not only a grave strategic error, it dismantles this core deterrent aspect of building nuclear weapons in the first place. Disarmament lobbies often cite the potential of a mistaken nuclear exchange where the US might launch a full nuclear response based on a false alarm. But it was never likely that the US would launch any missiles in response to a single warhead—it would just intercept that warhead. In addition, a huge first strike of hundreds of enemy missiles would never be mistaken as a false alarm.
The dangers of delaying a response to an incoming strike are increasing with the development of hypersonic warheads that are not only much faster than conventional warheads but maneuverable so they can evade the current anti-ballistic missile interceptors.
And, letting such a strike fall, can only be construed as our government’s intention to allow our military to be decapitated in order to force us the US into a militarized global government in response.
But the actual process of deciding when and how to respond to a Launch on Warning scenario is crucial and doesn’t allow for hardly any discussion. Here’s an article (ACT Jan/Feb 2018) by Bruce Blair who had a major role crafting PDD-60 in discussing how a presidential decision to launch comes down. His not-so-subtle purpose was to warn people about how an “unstable president” back then (Donald Trump) might make a mistake under Launch on Warning. Despite the bias, the protocol of how a nuclear response happens is good reading:
U.S. nuclear launch protocol has important virtues and serious liabilities. Major changes are needed to constrain a president who would seek to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause and to prevent him or her from being pushed into making nuclear retaliatory decisions in haste.
From a Navy E-6 Mercury flying above the Pacific Ocean, an Air Force officer monitors the status of an unarmed Minuteman III missile being test launched April 26, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, by a control system aboard the aircraft. The E-6, a version of the commercial Boeing 707 aircraft, is intended to provide a survivable communication link from the president and other elements of the National Command Authority to the U.S. nuclear forces.
The virtues of the protocol—the procedures and timelines for ordering the use of nuclear weapons and for carrying out such an order—are twofold. First, it concentrates launch authority at the highest level of the executive branch, the presidency, taking it out of the hands of the military and others.
Second, it is designed to allow the president and the nuclear forces under his command to respond rapidly and decisively in the face of an enemy attack by nuclear-armed missiles that can fly from the opposite side of the planet to U.S. territory in 30 minutes or from forward-deployed submarines in 15 minutes.
Despite fast-flying inbound warheads, the protocol on paper provides [barely] enough time for detecting and assessing an attack, convening an emergency conference between the president and his top nuclear advisers, briefing the president on his options and their consequences, authenticating the president’s decision, and formatting and transmitting a launch order to the launch crews in time to ensure the survival and execution of their forces.
The flip side of these virtues are serious liabilities. The protocol concentrates authority and emphasizes speed to such a degree that it may allow a president to railroad the nuclear commanders into initiating a first strike without apparent cause and quickly executing an order that may be horrifyingly misguided, illegal, or both. A demented commander-in-chief could start a nuclear conflagration that no one could forestall, veto, or stop. [Hinting at Trump.]
Depending on the urgency of the situation, this could be a protracted process with extensive planning, heightened force readiness, and regular briefings of the president, or it could be truncated to minutes if an imminent attack is perceived.
The so-called nuclear football, kept close to a president by a military aide, is a briefcase containing nuclear war plans and options (not communications gear) to enable a president to act in an emergency. When a decision is imminent, the process goes critical. The commander-in-chief would be connected to his key advisers via a secure communications network designed to support nuclear emergency actions. The president could initiate this conference anytime, even abruptly in the night, through his military aide who is always nearby with the “football”—a satchel containing the nuclear war plans, including a one-pager graphically depicting the major options at his disposal.
The best location for conferencing would be the blast-resistant emergency operations center under the East Wing of the White House. Advisers could be assembled there, and others linked by secure phone. Such a conference could be convened almost anywhere, from Mar-a-Lago or other locations or aboard his ground-transport vehicles and dedicated aircraft, including Air Force One and his “doomsday” plane. Secure communications are far less reliable when the president is traveling or in the process of being evacuated to a safe location.
The advisers may or may not join the conference in a timely way. If a brewing crisis suddenly escalates and catches them off guard, key advisers may fail to get on the call before a president decides the time to strike has arrived. Sometimes none of the advisers checked in, leaving the president and the head of Strategic Command (StratCom), whose role is to brief the president on nuclear options and their consequences, alone in the hot seats.
After this briefing, the president may seek advice from any, all, or none of the advisers in the room or on the telephone before rendering a decision, which likely but not necessarily involves choosing a preprogrammed option. Formally, he does not need any approval or consent, although StratCom or others on the call could attempt to dissuade the president if his thinking or final decision veer into the realm of the obviously misguided or illegal. Even the defense secretary has no particular role other than offering advice if asked. Contrary to widespread belief, he does not confirm the order or otherwise bless it in any way. But this is their last chance to change the president’s mind before a formal launch order is prepared by the Pentagon, disseminated, and inexorably implemented.
Listening in on the exchange is the Pentagon war room, a kind of boutique service dedicated to executing the orders of the president and the defense secretary. Following the drift of the conversation, this entity would start preparing a launch order. When the president finally declares his choice of option, it would challenge the president to authenticate using a special code known as the “biscuit,” or Gold Code. This would take a few seconds. If the codes match properly, it would quickly format and transmit a launch order over multiple communications channels directly to the submarine, bomber, and underground launch crews.
This would take a couple of minutes. Shorter than the length of a “tweet,” the order would specify the war plan, the time to begin the strike, an unlock code needed by the firing crews to release their weapons, and a Sealed Authentication Code that must match the codes in the firing crews’ safe. If the codes match, the crews assume the order originated with the president, even though all the codes in the launch order are held exclusively by the Pentagon war room and alternate command centers such as StratCom itself.
The underground Minuteman crews could complete their launch checklist in a little more than a minute. Today, as many as 400 missiles could be launched from their underground silos in less than five minutes after the president gave the order.
Historically, the notion of riding out an attack has been operationally anathema to the military. As General Lee Butler, a former head of the strategic forces, stated, “Our policy was premised on being able to accept the first wave of attacks…. Yet at the operational level it was never accepted…. They built a construct that powerfully biased the president’s decision process toward launch before the arrival of the first enemy warhead…a move in practice to a system structured to drive the president invariably toward a decision to launch under attack.”
Gen. Butler after retirement became a dedicated “peacenik” foolishly advocating total disarmament of all nuclear weapons.
This is called “jamming” the president, or pressuring him to quickly authorize retaliation while under apparent or confirmed attack. Jamming is still the norm in current nuclear operations. Although President Barack Obama directed the Pentagon to reduce our reliance on launch on warning and find ways to increase warning and decision time, nuclear exercises still feature this high-pressure tactic [another indication PDD 60 is kept hidden from them]. In some high-threat situations, the StratCom commander’s briefing of the president may be compressed to as little as 30 seconds, and then the president may be pressed to “deliberate and decide” in six minutes or less.
The persistent vulnerability of the nuclear command system and hundreds of U.S. missiles requires extremely fast reaction at all levels. In truth, everyone gets jammed. The risk of mistaken launch on false warning remains significant even today, 25 years after the end of the Cold War. It also creates pressure to pre-empt an imminent attack.
A six-minute deadline for deliberation and decision is ridiculous. [Problematic or not, that’s simply the reality of modern warfare.] This terrifying reality has been ignored for decades. Reform is long overdue… This means that the current prompt-launch posture must be drastically altered. Use-or-lose forces such as the silo-based missile force should be eliminated. Launch on warning should be eliminated.
How can he say this? Bruce Blair had a role in PDD-60 which secretly banned launch on warning, and here he is saying it needs to be eliminated. Can Blair have forgotten about PDD-60 like all the others? I tried to get a contact number for Blair to ask him if somehow PDD-60 had been supplanted, but he’s retired to Florida and unreachable. So, I contacted Kingston Reif at ACT and he responded that he didn’t know whether PDD 60 was still in force, and recommended I contact Hans Kristiansen of FAS, but he didn’t respond before publication.
Here is what I have concluded: All these disarmament experts would certainly know if PDD-60 had been supplanted–which they would vigorously contest. It was a very big deal when it was signed. I don’t believe it has ever been changed, and there’s no reason any administration since Clinton (being all globalist controlled) would want to allow a return to Launch on Warning. But the fact that they all seem oblivious to its existence means that it’s been kept a secret for so long that it’s effectively not in play anymore among the military, politicians, or even disarmament lobbyists. But it is still there, lurking behind the scenes, waiting to be enforced.
As Obama said, our missile forces still practice launch on warning. They have never been told about PDD-60. Trump, I am certain, was never told about PDD-60 either. It is like General Butler said, even though “Our policy was premised That said, a huge first strike of hundreds of enemies missiles would never be mistaken as a false alarm. on being able to accept the first wave of attacks…. Yet at the operational level it was never accepted.”
For these reasons, I don’t think the military leaders even know that PDD-60 is still our official secret policy. And when that first strike becomes visible by our satellites, they might even try to encourage the president to initiate Launch on Warning. But even if they convince him, they can be easily delayed until it’s too late. The launch order goes through several steps en route to launch crews and can be interdicted at any point.