Newly Declassified Documents Detail U.S. Nuclear War Plan Options by Nixon and Kissinger

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The Bush administration's interest in preemptive military options, whether conventional or nuclear, and limited use of nuclear weapons (e.g., bunker busting) is remarkably similar to military plans and options considered by earlier presidential administrations. Declassified documents from the Nixon administration show that U.S. nuclear war plans included preemptive options for striking Soviet and Chinese nuclear forces. They also show President Nixon and Henry Kissinger reacting to the massive nuclear strikes embodied in U.S. war plans by demanding more flexible options and plans for limited use of nuclear weapons.

Nixon and Kissinger sought alternatives to the massive Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) options which targeted up to 4000 nuclear weapons on Soviet military and industrial installations. During the 1960s, the SIOP had become a set of plans with five major preemptive and retaliatory options for massive nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union and other communist countries. The SIOP options were:

* a preemptive strike against Soviet bloc nuclear targets (the ALPHA task) only. In 1971, this strike required some 3200 bombs and missile warheads to destroy 1700 installations

* a preemptive strike against Soviet bloc nuclear (ALPHA task) and non-nuclear (BRAVO task) military targets; in 1971, this strike required some 3500 programmed weapons to destroy 2200 installations.

* a preemptive strike against bloc military (ALPHA and BRAVO) and war-supporting urban-industrial (CHARLIE task) targets; in 1971 this could have involved some 4200 programmed weapons targeting 6500 installations

* a retaliatory strike against bloc ALPHA, BRAVO, and CHARLIE target categories; in 1971 this required some 4000 programmed weapon targeting 6400 installations

* a retaliatory strike against bloc ALPHA and BRAVO military targets; in 1971, this option required 3200 programmed weapons to destroy 2100 installations.

The SIOP also included "withholds", e.g., attacks on command centers could be withheld to make it possible to communicate with authorities in the Soviet Union or China. Attacks on entire countries, e.g. China, Poland, or Romania, could also be withheld if they were not in the war or for other political or military reasons. Some 600 weapons were slated for a maximal China-only nuclear strike on military and industrial targets.

The massive SIOP attacks would have killed millions and Nixon and Kissinger were startled, even worried, by their scale when they first heard a SIOP briefing on January 27, 1969, only a week after the inauguration. Nixon's chief of staff later reported that the president "Obviously worries about the lightly tossed about millions of deaths." Concerned that threats of apocalyptic nuclear attacks lacked credibility, during the years that followed Kissinger sought plans for the limited use of strategic nuclear weapons. In this way, he wanted to avoid the "risk of our being paralyzed in a crisis because of the lack of plans short of an all-out SIOP response."

This electronic briefing book documents the Nixon White House's search for useable nuclear threats. Nixon issued an order to the bureaucracy in January 1974 calling for new war plans but elements of the national security bureaucracy were unenthusiastic doubting that nuclear weapons could be used in small numbers without touching off a conflagration. This briefing book also publishes for the first time Secretary of Defense's Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy (NUWEP) which provided guidance to war planners based on the new concepts of controlled escalation.

One of the studies in this briefing book includes data, as of 1971, on the nearly 13,000 U.S. nuclear weapons deployed overseas, with a breakdown of their regional locations (e.g., Europe, Pacific) and weapons types (see document 4, page 35).

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