Pentagon Releases, Then Deletes, Document Detailing Use of Nuclear Weapons to Restore 'Strategic Stability' for US Military

The U.S. military appears to believe it can somehow prevail in a nuclear war, according to a Pentagon document that was briefly made public, and has plans for using atomic weapons in “small and limited” capacities in order to create “strategic stability” for itself in the world.

The document, Nuclear Operations (pdf), describes the current political and military environment and the challenges faced by the Pentagon in strategizing how to most effectively deploy nuclear weapons in war. It was first reported on by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which downloaded and released the document on June 19.

The Pentagon published the document on June 11 and removed it earlier this week. In a statement to The Guardian, a Defense Department official said the document was made private “because it was determined that this publication, as is with other joint staff publications, should be for official use only.”

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the document reads. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

That passage was referred to as “Strangelovian” by FAS government secrecy project director Steven Aftergood. It’s an appropriate descriptor given the report’s third chapter, “Planning and Targeting,” opens with a quote from cold war theorist Herman Kahn:

Kahn was an inspiration for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film Dr. Strangelove

In comment to The Guardian, Aftergood said that the document is “unsettling” in its approach to nuclear weapons because the language of the report indicates the Pentagon is treating nuclear weapons as an offensive tactical advantage, not simply as a deterrent. 

“That kind of thinking itself can be hazardous,” said Aftergood. “It can make that sort of eventuality more likely instead of deterring it.”