PUBLISHED:12:45 EST, 16 September 2012| UPDATED:12:53 EST, 16 September 2012
Declassified documents have revealed for the first time how the Carter administration planned to fight a nuclear war.
Presidential Decision Directive 59, signed by President Jimmy Carter on July 25, 1980, was one of the most controversial nuclear policy documents of the Cold War and aimed to give presidents more discretion in planning for and executing a nuclear war.
But the creators of the document thought the use of nuclear weapons to defeat conventional troops wouldn’t necessarily result in apocalypse.
Sections of the policy were leaked at the time, and plastered across the front pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, but the National Security Archive made the entire document public for the first time this week on its website.
PD-59 reveals that the United States was indeed preparing to fight a nuclear war, and that the Carter administration sought nuclear capabilities that ensured a ‘high degree of flexibility, enduring survivability, and adequate performance in the face of enemy actions.’
If deterrence failed, the US ‘must be capable of fighting successfully so that the adversary would not achieve his war aims and would suffer costs that are unacceptable.’
According to Foreignpolicy.com, a major element of PD-59 was the ‘look-shoot-look’ capability. This involved using sophisticated intelligence to find nuclear weapons targets in battlefield situations, strike the targets, and then assess the damage.
A memorandum from NSC military aide William Odom depicted Secretary of Defense Harold Brown doing exactly that in a recent military exercise where he was ‘chasing (enemy) general purpose forces in East Europe and Korea with strategic weapons,’ the website reports.
In other words, he was planning how to use large nuclear weapons to attack conventional troops.
But Odom and others behind the document did not believe the use of nuclear weapons to defeat traditional troops would necessarily lead to apocalypse.
PD-59, which was highly classified for years, was signed during a period of heightened Cold War tensions due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and greater instability in the Middle East among other concerns.
Media coverage at the time suggested the changes to US strategy the policy enacted lowered the threshold of a decision to launch a nuclear attack, with some arguing that the directive would only exacerbate Cold War tensions.
Presidential Decision Directive 59