Womp: The Pentagon Accidentally Published Its Nuclear Doctrine

David Axe

Key point: Although no classified information was revealed, the public release provided insights that not many knew about.

The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in mid-June 2019 briefly published the Pentagon’s official doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons. The joint chiefs quickly pulled the document -- Joint Publication 3-72, Nuclear Operations -- from the public website.

“The document presents an unclassified, mostly familiar overview of nuclear strategy, force structure, planning, targeting, command and control and operations,” commented Steven Aftergood, an analyst with the Federation of American Scientists.

Aftergood preserved a public copy of Joint Publication 3-72.

“Nuclear forces provide capabilities to achieve U.S. national objectives. Nuclear forces deter threats by sustaining modern, credible military capabilities,” the doctrine states. “It is imperative that nuclear force capabilities are diverse, flexible, adaptable, effective, responsive and survivable.”

Aftergood highlighted one bit of phrasing in the doctrine that he described as “Strangelovian,” a reference to Stanley Kubirck’s 1964 satirical film Dr. Strangelove, which ends in gleeful nuclear apocalypse.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the doctrine opines. “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.”

The joint chiefs published the nuclear document around the same time that the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published its annual report, detailing the world’s atomic arsenals.

At the start of 2019, Russia, the United States, and seven other countries possessed 13,865 nuclear weapons, SIPRI found. That represents "marked decline" from the 14,465 atomic weapons in world arsenals at the beginning of 2018, according to SIPRI.

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