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Report: Nuclear weapons policy review names potential targets

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration listed seven countries as possible targets for nuclear attacks in a military contingency plan, according to a report provided to Congress in January, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The classified Pentagon information says nuclear weapons could be used against Libya, Syria, China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea in certain situations, the Times said.

Nuclear targeting discussions have been a part of U.S. military strategy for some time, but analysts told CNN that the Times list, if accurate, would be the first official one to come to light.

According to the Times report, nuclear weapons could be used against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, in retaliation for attacks by nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or "in the event of surprising military developments."

President Bush also has directed the military to build smaller nuclear weapons for use in some instances, the Times reports.

Arms-control advocates told the Times that the development of smaller nuclear weapons may signal that the Bush administration is leaning toward overlooking a long-standing policy against the use of nuclear weapons except as a last resort.

Conservative observers have said they believe the U.S. military should be prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary. Others believe any plans for possible nuclear attacks will have destabilizing global effects.

There was no response on the newspaper's report from the Pentagon or the White House, and no indication if the copy of the report obtained by the Times was a final or a draft version. The report, a congressionally mandated "nuclear posture review," is conducted every six years.

Pentagon officials briefing reporters on the review in January indicated a lessening reliance on the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to attack.

They said that findings called for increasing reliance on precision-guided weapons to deter attacks.

They said the classified nuclear posture review showed that because of improvements in precision-guided weaponry -- as demonstrated in the Afghan war -- the U.S. military can now rely more on powerful, highly accurate conventional bombs and missiles.

Increased missile threat predicted

Also in January, the U.S. intelligence community issued a report projecting that before 2015, the United States most likely would face intercontinental ballistic missile threats from North Korea, Iran and possibly Iraq, barring significant changes in their politics.

Bush named those three nations as an "axis of evil" during his State of the Union address earlier this year.

The unclassified report by the National Intelligence Council also predicted that Chinese ballistic missile forces would increase sevenfold by 2015, rising to between 75 and 100 warheads deployed.

Pentagon officials said the classified review showed that because of improvements in precision-guided weaponry -- as demonstrated in the Afghan war -- the U.S. military can now rely more on powerful, highly accurate conventional bombs and missiles to deter an enemy strike.

J.D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for International Security Policy, said in January that the end of the Cold War and the improving relationship with Russia made the change in strategy possible, but that it was also guided by an analysis of potential future threats to national security.

Crouch said many of the nuclear warheads the administration planned to remove from operational deployment would not be destroyed, but would be kept in an "active stockpile," which some future president could redeploy in the event of a major nuclear threat to this country.

President Bush has said he wants to reduce the U.S. arsenal of deployed nuclear weapons from more than 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200.


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