The Rising East


Leak of nuclear doctrine
may have been deliberate
to deter rogue nations

China's response to the Bush administration's new Nuclear Posture Review was naive. North Korea's reaction was laughable. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya sputtered like naughty children after a scolding. Much heated nonsense was written or uttered in the United States.

Curiously, however, the Bush administration was muted and seemingly unperturbed by the leak of a secret document, leading to speculation that it had been deliberately slipped out as part of an effort to deter other nations from acquiring or using nuclear arms. The NPR may even have been written with leaking in mind as it compromises no sensitive operational details.

The NPR, not to be confused with National Public Radio, was first leaked to an anti-nuclear activist who gave it to the Los Angeles Times. Then The New York Times got hold of a copy. Finally, it was floated over the Internet. It is a report that the Pentagon is required to send to Congress on plans for the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the next five to 10 years.

This NPR, the document said, goes "beyond the congressional mandate in developing a strategic posture for the 21st century." That posture includes shifting the main focus on the Cold War threat from Russia, which is no longer considered an adversary, to China, North Korea and other nations considered to be rogues.

The NPR envisaged the United States armed with fewer nuclear warheads that would be smaller but more accurate. It called for better intelligence to locate moving targets and those buried deep underground and for a command apparatus that would permit faster launches. Altogether, the NPR was a logical extension of the nuclear doctrine that was first forged a half-century ago and has been continuously revised.

In response, Chinese spokesmen said they were "deeply shocked" that the United States would make China a target. Why the Chinese, who are steadily expanding their nuclear force, think they should not be a potential target is a mystery.

The North Koreans asserted that President Bush sought "to exterminate humankind" and claimed that a war started by the president's "nuclear fanatics" would end with "their ruin in nuclear disaster." This from a nation that has a nuclear arsenal of one to six warheads.

In the United States, anti-military advocates leaped to the challenge. The New York Times said America had become a rogue. John Isaacs of the Council for a Livable World contended: "Dr. Strangelove is clearly still alive in the Pentagon." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the United States risks becoming "a rogue nation going off and finding ways to use nuclear weapons." Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argued that the NPR "reduces all our bona fides on the proliferation issue."

The suspicion that this may have been a ruse arises from the sequence in which the NPR was leaked. The first news article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 9, a Saturday. That was matched on Sunday by The New York Times. In addition, William Arkin, the anti-nuclear activist who gave the NPR to the Los Angeles Times, wrote a criticism of the document in that paper on Sunday.

That same day, the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, all appeared on TV talk shows to assert that the NPR's purpose was to deter other nations from using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons to attack the United States.

Rice made the point directly, saying the administration sought "to send a very strong signal to anyone who might try to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States that (they) would be met with a devastating response." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who is often scathing in blasting at leaks, was silent for three days and then was only mildly critical.

The Republican administration got support from an unlikely source. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut and vice presidential candidate in 2000, said: "Frankly, I don't mind some of these renegade nations who we have reason to believe are working themselves to develop nuclear weapons -- and I'm thinking of Iraq and Iran and North Korea here -- to think twice about the willingness of the United States to take action to defend our people and our values and our allies."

Richard Halloran is a former correspondent
for The New York Times in Asia and a former editorial
director of the Star-Bulletin. His column appears Sundays.
He can be reached by e-mail at

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin