Since the United States announced its revamped nuclear use policy, critics here and abroad have raised questions as to whether the Obama administration was undermining a major threat that could cause hostile countries (or groups) from thinking twice. Did this undermine the decades long concept of detterence? But today two top Obama administration officials made it clear: the U.S. will respond forcefully with any weapons it can in the case of an attacking using any weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even gave an excellent “high concept” sound byte that fits easily into headlines and into neews clips — h four words to describe the U.S. response if WMD were used: “All bets are off..”
The Obama administration’s nuclear posture review may have removed some of the intentional ambiguity from U.S. nuclear policy, but it does not leave the country any less safe, President Obama’s top national security advisers said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
In fact, they said, it gives a clear warning to other state actors that the U.S. will not ignore any growing threats.
“This is putting everybody on notice,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer in an interview conducted Friday at the Pentagon. “We don’t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are.”
The revised nuclear policy says that the United States will not use nuclear weapons to respond to a chemical or biological attack from a non-nuclear country. The policy, however, leaves significant contingencies, said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Countries which are non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (such as North Korea) or have been found to be non-compliant (such as Iran) are not exempt from nuclear retaliation under the Obama policy.
“We were concerned about the biological weapons,” Gates said, “and that’s why the president was very clear … if we see states developing biological weapons that we begin to think endanger us or create serious concerns, that he reserves the right to revise this policy.”
Clinton added, “If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off.”
The clarification will matter most abroad since it sends a message to those who might eventually consider attacking the United States, even through third parties or terrorist groups. On the domestic front, it might quell some lingering doubts in “the middle,” but it won’t make dent on the talk radio political circuit since this is election year when equally “high concept” sound bytes are sought by talk show hosts seeking to boost ratings and politicians seeking a campaign issues.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.