[Presidential Decision Directives - PDD]

Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy Guidance

November 1997

NOTE: the actual text of this document is classified TS/ESI [TOP SECRET / EXTREMELY SENSITIVE INFORMATION] and is likely to remain so for many years to come.

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), completed last spring, examined U.S. nuclear strategy and force posture and reaffirmed the continuing need for a robust and flexible nuclear deterrent. In the QDR, nuclear forces were examined as an integral part of an overall review of defense issues. This review followed a path which led from the threat, to strategy, to force structure considerations, and finally to resource issues.

In November 1997 the President signed a new Decision Directive on nuclear weapons employment policy guidance. This directive was the first revision of such guidance in over 15 years, although U.S. nuclear plans have been updated regularly to changes to subordinate documents and through Presidential Decisions such as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives and the Nuclear Posture Review. The directive takes account of the changes in policy and force posture brought on by the end of the Cold War and builds on the conclusions of previous policy reviews, such as the NPR and QDR.

The directive describes, in general terms, the purposes of U.S. nuclear weapons and provides broad Presidential guidance for developing operational plans. It also provides guidelines for maintaining nuclear deterrence and U.S. nuclear forces.

The directive indicates that the United States must maintain the assured response capability to inflict "unacceptable damage" against those assets a potential enemy values most. It also posits that the U.S. must continue to plan a range of options to insure that the U.S. can respond to aggression in a manner appropriate to the provocation, rather than being left with an "all or nothing" response. The new guidance also continues the policy that the U.S. will not rely on "launch on warning," but will maintain the capability to respond promptly to any attack, thus complicating an adversary's calculations. However, the new guidance eliminates previous Cold War rhetoric including references to "winning a protracted nuclear war."

The directive reaffirms that the United States should have a triad of strategic deterrent forces to complicate an adversary's attack and defense planning. It also notes that deterrent forces and their associated command and control should be flexible and survivable, to insure that the U.S. will be able to make an adequate and appropriate response.

While the directive does not address arms control issues, per se, analysis undertaken in accordance with the new guidance shows that the U.S. strategic deterrent can be maintained at the 2,000 to 2,500 strategic weapon level envisioned for START III as agreed in the 1997 Helsinki accord.