NRDC Report Finds Current U.S. Nuclear War Plan Main Barrier to Reducing Stockpiles

Group Calls on Bush Administration to Abolish Plan

WASHINGTON (June 18, 2001) - NRDC (The Natural Resources Defense Council) today released a major report, "The U.S. Nuclear War Plan: A Time for Change" (available at the NRDC Web site,, which calls on the Bush administration to abolish the U.S. nuclear war plan because it is an impediment to reducing nuclear stockpiles. The report is extremely timely given the Bush administration is reviewing basic questions about U.S. nuclear weapons, including how many should be in the stockpile, what kinds and types they should be, and what roles they should play in the nation's security policy.

"The Bush administration has a golden opportunity to bring about fundamental change and break with the Cold War thinking that endures more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union," said report co-author Thomas Cochran, director of NRDC's nuclear program.

NRDC nuclear experts researched for more than two years to simulate aspects of the U.S. nuclear war plan known as the SIOP (for Single Integrated Operational Plan). The report is the final analysis of their findings. The report analyzed a "counterforce" attack on Russian nuclear forces using almost 1,300 U.S. strategic warheads.

"We found that the consequences of attacking these military targets resulted in 11 million to 17 million casualties, of which 8 million to 12 million would be fatalities," said co-author Matthew McKinzie, an NRDC project scientist. "We should demand from our military and civilian officials explanations of the reasoning behind their targeting policy and what would happen if their plan were executed."

The report's major conclusion is the assumptions and logic underlying the SIOP, with its demanding requirements, impedes progress towards smaller and safer nuclear forces. The report also concluded that to break with Cold War practices, the United States should stop targeting Russia with thousands of nuclear weapons so that its conciliatory statements about it not being an enemy are meaningful.

"Any proposal by the Bush administration for lower numbers of strategic warheads that does not abandon counterforce as the ruling assumption and strategy of the war plan is flawed and dangerous," said report co-author Robert S. Norris, an NRDC senior analyst. "Such proposals actually perpetuate Cold War logic, and neither alter the fundamental calculus of nuclear deterrence nor the condition of 'mutual assured destruction,' or MAD. Plans to abrogate the ABM Treaty and proceed with national missile defense systems only make matters worse."

The report recommends that something more fundamental must occur to break with the ideology of the Cold War. Under new presidential guidance, the United States should abolish the SIOP as it currently is understood, implemented and practiced. The policy directive should restrict the roles and missions assigned to nuclear weapons and reduce their geopolitical value, by word and action. A contingency war-planning capability should be substituted that can assemble attack plans in the event of a crisis or hostilities.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
The U.S. Nuclear War Plan: A Time for Change