from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
February 12, 2001


The Bush Administration is poised to issue a classified directive ordering a comprehensive review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the New York Times reported on Friday.

While the specific contents of the Bush directive are highly classified, the Times story said its broad outlines are reflected in a report issued last month by the non-governmental National Institute of Public Policy (NIPP). Several of the authors of the report have joined the Administration to work on strategic policies.

The NIPP report argues against treaty-based nuclear arms control and in favor of maximum U.S. flexibility in reconstituting nuclear forces. Within that loose framework, however, it also allows for arms reductions, a possibility suggested by President Bush during last year's campaign.

"Preserving the U.S. capability to adapt [to changing strategic conditions] does not exclude the potential for U.S. nuclear force reductions, now or in the future," the NIPP study says. "A proper nuclear posture review may determine that U.S. nuclear force requirements can be met at lower force levels."

The NIPP study may be found on the organization's web site here:

Though lucid and free of bombast, the study is also full of unexamined assumptions and dubious claims.

The authors identify various features of the strategic environment affecting the size of the U.S. arsenal that make it difficult to definitively answer the question "how much is enough?" But most of these factors (e.g., the identity of the future adversary, the vulnerability of U.S. forces to preemptive attack, enemy use of defensive measures, and even the "political-psychological importance of nuclear numbers") would only become significant with a vastly smaller nuclear arsenal than the U.S. now possesses. If the guiding question were instead "how much is too much?" then it would be clear that that threshold has long since been crossed.

The authors lament that "Cold War-style arms control... contributes to U.S.-Russian political enmity" because it commits both sides to Mutual Assured Destruction. As a fact of political life, however, far more U.S.-Russian friction is created by U.S. steps to repudiate traditional arms control, such as the failure to confirm a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or possible abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The authors sensibly argue that "Specific nuclear force posture recommendations should follow a comprehensive review of technical, operational, and political variables." But they go on to make the unsupported claim that "The U.S. nuclear force posture historically has been shaped by such a process." In reality, it appears that U.S. nuclear force posture has always been shaped far more by bureaucratic factors, including inter-service rivalry, than by any such comprehensive review.

In fact, the size of the U.S. arsenal has often been skewed irrationally toward expansion. In his recent memoir, nuclear weaponeer Sam Cohen recalled a Strategic Air Command exercise in the 1950s in which SAC analysts were asked to determine "how many bombs of what bang would be required to produce a specified level of damage" to a hypothetical city. The answer came back that "three bombs whose bangs were almost ten times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima" would be required. The punch line was that the hypothetical city in the exercise actually was Hiroshima, and the analysts had grossly exaggerated the weaponry needed to destroy it. ("Shame," pp. 86-87).

But all public discussion of these issues is somewhat beside the point, since with rare exceptions nuclear force planning has always been unconstrained by public opinion or by even the most rudimentary forms of democratic control.

Thus, when Senator Bob Kerrey last year requested a classified briefing on the nuclear targeting process -- which is a critical factor in determining the size of the arsenal -- his request was denied. The idea that a senior elected official with relevant oversight responsibility and jurisdiction could be denied such information even on a classified basis is no less shocking just because it has long been standard practice. Senator Kerrey's account of this episode, previously reported (SN, 12/18/00), was presented here:

The NIPP authors are oblivious to this continuing offense against American democracy, and it does not enter into their thinking. But strategic considerations aside, deep reductions in the size of the nuclear arsenal would be one way to assert democratic control over this largely unaccountable element of the U.S. government.


The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement criticizing the testimony of Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet last week, in which he had said that Russia was striving "to restore some aspects of the Soviet past" and was actively engaged in proliferation of missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction.

Tenet's statements are "astonishing, to put it mildly," the Foreign Ministry said on February 9. "On the whole, the ‘dark revelations' of George J. Tenet about Russia and our relations with the United States may play up to the hawkish sentiments in the U.S. Congress and help increase the CIA budget, but they in no way correspond to the real state of affairs," the Russian statement claimed.

The translated text of the Foreign Ministry statement is posted here:


The National Archives and Records Administration announced in a Federal Register notice today that additional files from the Nixon Presidency will be opened to the public on April 5.

Of particular interest, "several series within the National Security Council files have been systematically reviewed for declassification and will be made available. In addition, a number of documents which were previously withheld from public access have been re-reviewed for release and/or declassified under the provisions of Executive Order 12958." See:


The Department of Energy is moving "to assess the impacts of existing security and counterintelligence orders on the science and security environment"in the DOE national laboratories.

In response to an ongoing study by a new Commission on Science and Security, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson initiated policy reviews prior to his departure from government affecting a range of security policies including foreign visits, polygraph testing, and "sensitive but unclassified" information.

Although Energy Secretary Abraham has recently suspended some of his predecessor's regulatory initiatives, the security review appears to be proceeding on track.

For specifics, see Secretary Richardson's January 18 memorandum here:


To subscribe to Secrecy News, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message:

To unsubscribe, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message: Secrecy News is archived at: