According to a US National Security Strategy analysis conducted in 2006, pre-emption has evolved from concept into doctrine. The concept plan for Global Strike (CONPLAN 8022-02) will be maintained by the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike (JFCC-SGS), which is planned to be fully operational from the autumn of 2006. CONPLAN 8022 includes nuclear weapons among the means available to destroy targets (the others, and more likely, being conventional, information warfare and special operations forces). Should deterrence fail, weapons must be ready to be put to use, be they nuclear or conventional.
US National Security Strategy and pre-emption
‘America is at war.’ Thus begins the new National Security Strategy of the United States of America, a document published by the White House in March 2006 to guide military and other strategic planning in the coming years. The gloomy first sentence is a stark contrast to the introduction of the previous National Security Strategy from 2002, a document also published during the ongoing ‘war on terrorism’ but which opened with a description of a social struggle between democratic and oppressive societies.
Both documents are products of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, which provoked the formulation of the so-called ‘pre-emption’ doctrine, according to which the United States would ‘no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past’ (1) but strike first if necessary. The 2006 strategy repeats this pledge to ‘act pre-emptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defence’. (2)
Since it was first published in 2002, the Bush administration’s pre-emption doctrine has been widely criticised for making US national security strategy appear too aggressive and trigger-happy. The new National Security Strategy appears to acknowledge this criticism somewhat by cautioning: ‘The United States will not resort to force in all cases to pre-empt emerging threats. Our preference is that non-military actions succeed. And no country should ever use pre-emption as a pretext for aggression.’ (3) With US military forces tied down in Iraq following a pre-emptive invasion in 2003 that was not in self-defence, the promise not to use pre-emption as aggression obviously appears moot. Yet the new National Security Strategy seems to suggest that very little has changed:
If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defence, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialise. This is the principle and logic of pre-emption. The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just. (4)
Of cause, the United States has never relied ‘solely’ on a reactive posture in the past. The US strategic war plan (Single Integrated Operations Plan–SIOP) in 1969, for example, included more pre-emptive options than retaliatory options. The smallest of the pre-emptive options involved the launch of 58 % of all SIOP-committed nuclear forces against Soviet and Chinese nuclear delivery vehicles and military control centres.(5) In that type of Cold War context pre-emption is as old as the nuclear era itself.
Yet the 2002 and 2006 National Security Strategy documents, and the secret guidance that accompanies them, clearly have shifted the emphasis more decisively toward pre-emption. What has changed is the geographic location and scope of the pre-emptive scenarios, the means to carry them out, and the type of conflict that could trigger them. Although pre-emptive strike options are probably still being updated against Russian and Chinese nuclear forces, today’s pre-emptive planning is increasingly focused on developing strike options against regional proliferators armed with weapons of mass destruction, in low-intensity conflicts, even before armed hostilities have broken out.
Making the pre-emptive options credible requires new military capabilities. ‘To support pre-emptive options’, the 2002 strategy stated, we will ‘transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.’ (6) Building on the decision of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, the 2006 National Security Strategy describes the nuclear and conventional forces needed to implement the doctrine:
Safe, credible, and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a critical role. We are strengthening deterrence by developing a New Triad composed of offensive strike systems (both nuclear and improved conventional capabilities); active and passive defences, including missile defences; and a responsive infrastructure, all bound together by enhanced command and control, planning, and intelligence systems. These capabilities will better deter some of the new threats we face, while also bolstering our security commitments to allies. Such security commitments have played a crucial role in convincing some countries to forgo their own nuclear weapons programmes, thereby aiding our non-proliferation objectives.(7)
The 2002 and 2006 National Security Strategy documents are only the public tip of a secret iceberg. They form part of a string of documents, most of which remain classified, that have been issued since 2001 to guide the military and other agencies on how to implement the pre-emption doctrine. So far this has included over a dozen major new guidance documents issued by the White House and the Office of Secretary of Defence, as well as an entirely new strike plan designed by US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to provide the President with new nuclear and conventional strike options against regional states and non-state actors.
Shortly before the 2002 National Security Strategy itself was published, President George W. Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 17. It promulgated a new National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction as a comprehensive approach to counter not just nuclear but also other weapons of mass destruction, reaffirmed the use of nuclear weapons–even pre-emptively–against anyone using weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its forces abroad, and friends and allies.
In January 2003, President Bush signed Change 2 to the Unified Command Plan, which assigned four new missions to STRATCOM: Global Strike, missile defence, information operations, and global C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance). This was followed in March 2003 by the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Plan, a 26-page list of specific items from the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review that the armed forces were ordered to implement to create the force structure that will make up the New Triad.
This was followed by the Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy (NUWEP) signed by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in April 2004, which provided the military with a list of the countries that US nuclear planning should be directed against, including a breakdown of the individual strike options (plans) and their target categories and objectives. The NUWEP 04, which is more detailed than its predecessor from 1999, states in part: ‘US nuclear forces must be capable of, and be seen to be capable of, destroying those critical war-making and war-supporting assets and capabilities that a potential enemy leadership values most and that it would rely on to achieve its own objectives in a post-war world.’
To implement the new guidance, STRATCOM conducted a ‘major revamping’ of the strategic war plan, previously known as the SIOP. The new plan, called OPLAN 8044 Revision 05, became effective on 1 October 2004, and ‘provides more flexible options to assure allies, and dissuade, deter, and if necessary, defeat adversaries in a wider range of contingencies’.(8) In an attempt to create the New Triad, the new plan included the ‘integration of conventional strike options’ for the first time.
Global Strike plans
A subset of the New Triad is known as Global Strike. This new mission, which was added to STRATCOM’s portfolio by the Unified Command Plan in January 2003, is one of the most important components of the implementation of the pre-emption doctrine. The Unified Command Plan defined global strike as ‘a capability to deliver rapid, extended range, precision kinetic (nuclear and conventional) and non-kinetic (elements of space and information operations) effects in support of theatre and national objectives.’ With its extensive expertise in developing strategic nuclear war plans against Russia and China, it only took STRATCOM a couple of months until November 2003 to develop a concept plan for Global Strike: CONPLAN 8022.
As a concept plan, CONPLAN 8022 was not operational at that time but available for implementation if so ordered by the Secretary of Defence. That happened in June 2004, shortly after the NUWEP was issued, when Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the military to implement CONPLAN 8022 to provide the President with a prompt, global strike capability. In response, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers signed the Global Strike Alert Order (ALERTORD) on 30 June 2004, which ordered STRATCOM to put CONPLAN 8022 into effect in coordination with the Air Force and Navy. Six weeks later, on 17 August, STRATCOM published Global Strike Interim Capability Operations Order (OPORD) which changed CONPLAN 8022 from a concept plan to an operational contingency plan. In response, selected bombers, ICBMs, SSBNs, and information warfare units are now tasked against specific high-value targets in adversary countries. An updated plan (CONPLAN 8022-02) is under development.
Whereas Global Strike focuses on targets that could be struck within a timeline of a few hours to a day or two, CONPLAN 8022 also includes a subset called Prompt Global Strike that consists of forces capable of striking time-sensitive targets within an hour. At present Prompt Global Strike only includes nuclear ballistic missiles and cyber attacks, but from 2008 the Navy plans to replace the nuclear warheads on 24 Trident missiles on deployed ballistic missile submarines with 96 conventional warheads to provide the first conventional Prompt Global Strike capability.
One of those submarines, the USS Tennessee (SSBN-734), conducted a simulated Global Strike launch of a Trident II D5 missile in the Atlantic Ocean on 1 March 2005. The 8,000-plus km range missile flew a heavily compressed trajectory with the shortest range ever for a Trident SLBM to a range of only 2,200 km. Impact occurred in the western Atlantic Ocean only 12-13 minutes after launch from a position off Florida. The missile carried several Mk4 re-entry vehicles equipped with the three-axis flap system developed by Lockheed Martin for the W76/Mk4 under the Effectiveness Enhancement (E2) programme. The E2 programme itself was formally rejected by Congress in 2004, but the Navy continued work none the less with Lockheed Martin money. The work developed a GPS-guided ‘Accuracy Adjunct’ to allow manoeuvring of the re-entry vehicle to an accuracy of less than 10 metres. ‘I had GPS signal all the way down and could steer it’, one admiral involved in the flight test said.(9)
Global Strike organisation
STRATCOM has established the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike (JFCC-SGS) and given it operational and tactical control of designated global strike forces as directed by the STRATCOM commander to execute the Global Strike options if so ordered by the President or Secretary of Defence.
The function of JFCC-SGS goes beyond Global Strike and appears surprisingly central to all US nuclear and strategic planning. Not only does JFCC-SGS have responsibility for the Global Strike mission itself, but the component command has been tasked with core responsibilities that appear to span all nuclear war planning for OPLAN 8044. This includes providing key targeting and strike planning and analysis, system management of the computerised war planning system for OPLAN 8044, producing and maintaining the database that contains the targets for OPLAN 8044, delivering the recommended target lists for OPLAN 8044, and producing the actual OPLAN 8044 Revision plan (the combat element formerly known as SIOP). In fact, it seems as though JFCC-SGS is the new centre for US nuclear strike planning.
JFCC-SGS achieved Initial Operational Capability on 18 November 2005, after it was thoroughly tested in the nuclear strike exercise Global Lightning 06. The STRATCOM exercise practiced execution of both OPLAN 8044 Revision 5 and CONPLAN 8022. Full Operational Capability of JFCC-SGS is scheduled for the end of September 2006.
Discussion and conclusion
The pre-emption doctrine and the Global Strike mission it has spawned add up to much more than a hypothetical ‘what if’: they reflect real changes in US planning and assumptions about use. CONPLAN 8022 is a new offensive war plan created explicitly to back up more aggressive White House language about being willing to strike first. Most of this by far involves non-nuclear operations, but this makes the inclusion of the nuclear option in the new and different Global Strike mission all the more surprising because it implies that the potential use of nuclear weapons is also viewed in a new and different way.
If the thousands of nuclear weapons the United States keep on alert and tasked under OPLAN 8044 are not sufficient to deter any potential adversary that can be deterred, it is fair to ask why a limited nuclear option in CONPLAN 8022 would convince them. The answer seems to be that the nuclear option in CONPLAN 8022 is not about influencing adversaries but about destroying targets that cannot be destroyed by other means. The underlying assumption behind their rebirth seems to be that deterrence will fail and when it does nuclear and conventional weapons will be available as tools in the toolbox.
The evolution of the role of US nuclear weapons as last resort leftovers from the Cold War with the Soviet Union to apparently reinvigorated and dynamic front-line tools against proliferators is a dramatic and surprising development. But it would be wrong to see this as merely the result of the Bush administration’s policies. The evolution extends back to before the Clinton administration shortly after the end of the Cold War, when military planners and policy-makers almost overnight expanded the role of nuclear weapons from deterring other nuclear weapons to deterring all forms of weapons of mass destruction. This led to a gradual mission-creep that has now once again given nuclear weapons a centre place in US national security strategy. It is a different centre than during the Cold War, but a centre none the less. And it is a development other nuclear weapons states may well end up mirroring when they too expand their nuclear deterrent to cover regional proliferators armed with weapons of mass destruction.
(1) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, September 2002), p. 15.
(2) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, March 2006), p. 18.
(4) Ibid., p. 23; emphasis added.
(5) Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. to Dr Kissinger, ‘The SIOP’, 8 November 1969, Top Secret, p. 2. Mandatory Review Release to the National Security Archive; available at www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB173/index.htm
(6) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, September 2002), p. 16.
(7) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, March 2006), p. 22.
(8) General Richard B. Myers USAF, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 17 February 2005, p. 32.
(9) Hans M. Kristensen, ‘Global Strike: A Chronology of the Pentagon’s New Offensive Strike Plan’, Federation of American Scientists, 15 March 2006, p. 39; available at www.nukestrat.com/us/stratcom/GSchron.htm