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Referenced in:
Le Monde
article (November 20, 2001)
Taipei Times
op-ed (July 28, 2001)
Washington Post
article (July 5, 2001)

In 1995, CINCSTRAT Admiral Chiles directed the policy subcommittee to the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) to produce a Terms of Reference that could be used as a baseline for other SAG subcommittees in "expanding the Deterrence of the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction."

The work continued the efforts of STRATCOM and other elements of the Pentagon to adjust U.S. nuclear doctrine to the changes that occurred with the demise of the Soviet Union and the increasing focus on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The result was a eight-page outline of deterrence theory and its potential application against enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction in the Post-Cold War era. The study emphasized a value-based deterrence, holding at risk those assets that mean most to an opponent..

It also recommended a declaratory deterrence policy which clearly communicates what the U.S. wants to deter. At the same time, however, the study favored maintaining ambiguity about the exact response. To that end the study specifically criticized the so-called Negative Security Assurances pledged by President Clinton in 1995 to ensure support international support for an indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The study recommended against limiting the nuclear option through a no-first-use policy.

In terms of maintaining ambiguity, the study found that deterrence would be hurt by portraying U.S. leaders as too fully rational and cool-headed. "The fact that some elements may appear to be potentially 'out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts thin the
minds of an adversary's decision makers. 'This essential sense of fear is the working force of deterrence. That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be part of the national persona we project to all adversaries."

In arguing for applying nuclear deterrence against chemical or biological weapons, the study claimed that Adolf Hitler refrained from using chemical weapons during World War II because he was concerned that allied bombing might escalate. Likewise, the study said, Saddam Hussein also appeared to have been deterred from using weapons of mass destruction in the 1991 Gulf War by a U.S. threat of overwhelming response if such weapons were used.

After this study and some of the SAG minutes were referenced in the publications "Targets of Opportunity" (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1997) and "Nuclear Futures: Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and U.S. Nuclear Strategy" (BASIC, March 1998), STRATCOM's FOIA office informed that formal minutes SAG meetings would no longer be produced. Coinciding with this, the National Security Council told the Associated Press that the SAG study did not represent official U.S. policy.

The items in the right-hand bar provide access to text- and PDF-versions of Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.

FOIA documents

"Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence" (~1995)

Reports and articles

FOIA Site Map

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  Funding for this project was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. For information about the Nuclear Strategy Project contact Hans M. Kristensen (510-295-6125).