Nuclear Response Approved by Bush

January 31, 2003
{Posted at: 11:00 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush has signed a document that allows the U.S. to use its nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack, The Washington Times reported on Friday.

The classified document is an apparent change to a long-time American stance of ambiguity on the subject of weapons of mass destruction.

National Security Presidential Directive 17, signed on September 14, 2002, includes the statement that: "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force — including potentially nuclear weapons — to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."

A senior Bush administration official told The Times that the use of the words "nuclear weapons" in the text gives the military and other officials, who are the document's intended audience, "a little more of an instruction to prepare all sorts of options for the president," if need be.

Nuclear forces, according to the document, are designated as the main part of any U.S. deterrent, and conventional capabilities "complement" the nuclear weapons.

The disclosure of the classified text follows newspaper reports that the planning for a war with Iraq focuses on using nuclear arms not only to defend U.S. forces but also to "pre-empt" deeply buried Iraqi facilities that could withstand conventional explosives.

For decades, the U.S. government has maintained a deliberately vague nuclear policy, expressed in such language as "all options open" and "not ruling anything in or out." As recently as last weekend, Bush administration officials used similar statements in public, consciously avoiding the word "nuclear."

On the Internet: The Washington Times