The study, "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," was written by the Defense Department's Strategic Command, a multiservice organization responsible for the nation's strategic nuclear arsenal.
The report was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by an arms control group and published Sunday in a report on U.S. strategies for deterring attacks by antagonistic nations using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
"Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the U.S. may do to an adversary if the acts we seek to deter are carried out, it hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed," the 1995 Strategic Command study says.
The London-based think tank the British-American Security Information Council cited the STRATCOM document in its report as an example of the Pentagon's push to maintain a mission for its nuclear arsenal long after the Soviet threat disappeared.
The report portrays the command as fighting and winning an internal bureaucratic battle against liberal Clinton administration officials who lean in favor of dramatic nuclear weapons reductions.
Citing a range of formerly classified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the report shows how the United States shifted its nuclear deterrent strategy from the defunct Soviet Union to so-called rogue states such as Iraq, Libya, Cuba, and North Korea.
"The fact that some elements (of the U.S. government) may appear to be potentially 'out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers," the Strategic Command report said.
The idea of projecting an aura of irrationality dates at least as far back as the early 1960s, when Harvard Professor Thomas Schelling was writing his ground-breaking works on game theory and nuclear bargaining.
Henry Kissinger and President Nixon exercised this theory with coercive air strikes on North Vietnam as a way of forcing Hanoi to the bargaining table during the Vietnam War.
In 1997, President Clinton approved a directive on U.S. nuclear policy that upheld the "negative security assurance" that the U.S. will refrain from first-use of nuclear weapons against signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a list that includes Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea.
The policy, however allows a response with nuclear weapons to attacks by nuclear-capable states, countries that are not in good standing under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or states allied with nuclear powers. Iraq, which the U.S. regards as violating international atomic weapons restrictions, could be one such exception.
Arms control adocates are concerned that signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty who possess no nuclear weapons will abandon the pact if they see the existing nuclear powers preserving their nuclear arsenals.
But Robert Bell, President Clinton's senior adviser on nuclear weapons and arms control matters, disputed that argument in an interview Friday.
Of the 1995 Strategic Command document, Bell said, "That sounds like an internal STRATCOM paper which certainly does not rise to the level of national policy."
Written by John Diamond.
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