Press Release
17 August 1998

US targets terrorists with nuclear weapons

Nuclear strikes against "nonstate actors" are part of the official US doctrine for the theater use of nuclear weapons. Terrorist groups assumed to possess weapons of mass destruction are likely to rank high among nonstate actors. According to a study on Western nuclear policies, to be published next month by the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), the option to conduct nuclear strikes against „nonstate actors" is contained in the Joint Chief of Staff's „Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations". This 1996 document states that „nonstate actors", which are in possession of weapons of mass destruction and their "facilities and operations centers" are „likely targets" for the use of nuclear weapons. The document is mandatory for joint operations of all US services.

The importance of this option has been highlighted through the recent conventional strikes against the bin Laden network and especially the Sudanese factory, assumed to produce precursor materials for chemical weapons.

US nuclear planners do not believe that using nuclear weapons - even against nonstate actors - would violate international law: „Neither the law of armed conflict nor any other customary or conventional international law prohibits the use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict", the current version of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" states.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff the weapons of choice for attacking such targets would be tactical or „sub-strategic weapons". These include the nuclear B61 free fall bombs, of which up to 180 are still deployed in seven Western European countries. Additional ones are available in the United States. The US military also stores a nuclear version of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles. More than 300 nuclear SLCMs are available in storage sites in the continental US and could be deployed with submarines and surface warships quickly during a contingency.

"Could you imagine European countries to allow a US nuclear strike against alleged terrorist groups from their soil?", asks Otfried Nassauer, Director of BITS. "I can't and I assume this policy is sufficiently unrealistic and unsound to raise serious questions about the purpose of US nuclear weapons in Europe and the future of NATO's nuclear doctrine during the ongoing NATO strategy review."

"For the US to formally consider using nuclear weapons against nonstate actors only serves to make the 'unthinkable' act of nuclear war more 'thinkable'", says Dan Plesch, Director of BASIC. "This is clearly weakening the developing global norm against the use of nuclear weapons. How can the US call on India and Pakistan to give up their nuclear weapons while her own military leadership treats weapons of mass destruction just like ordinary ammunition?"

For additional information please contact:
Otfried Nassauer (BITS-Berlin) +49 30 4410-220
Dan Plesch (BASIC-Washington) + 1 202 785-1266