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Nuclear Exercises for Nuclear Warfighting

Jan. 30, 2022 (EIRNS)—On Jan. 25, U.S. Strategic Command announced the kickoff of Global Lightning 22, an annual staff/command nuclear warfighting post exercise that this year is being conducted jointly with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Stratcom’s release, however, said very little else about the exercise. The involvement of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command indicates that this year’s exercise scenario is aimed at China (last year’s was targeted at Russia). Nonetheless, what Russia sees, according to national security experts William Arkin and Mark Ambinder in an article published in Newsweek on Jan. 28, is “decision-makers focused on the latest plan, nuclear command and control circuits opened and tested, new innovations and capabilities incorporated and practiced.”

They also expose the existence of Stratcom’s current nuclear war plan, courtesy of Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists, entitled “STRATCOM CONPLAN 0810-12, ‘Strategic Deterrence and Force Deployment,’ Change 1.” Kristensen acquired the title page via a Freedom of Information Act request. He told Arkin and Ambinder that the Global Lightning exercise: “includes practicing operations during a trans-/post-attack nuclear environment, including reconstitution, redirection and targeting of STRATCOM forces.” In other words, it not only contemplates nuclear first use by one side or the other, but also continued nuclear warfighting after the initial exchange.

The war plan also includes another innovation developed over the past two decades: “The incorporation of non-nuclear capabilities into the nuclear war plan that allows contingency planners to assume enough capabilities to survive a Russia first strike, to retaliate, to absorb more attacks, retaliate again, and keep on doing the same again and again,” the two experts write. “It’s a capability that’s more provocative than the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) trope of the past, and one that receives shocking little attention.”

“When nuclear weapons were the only component of the nuclear war plan, the firebreak was huge,” Arkin and Ambinder conclude.

“There was one event to be prevented and deterred. One plan. One nuclear capability. Many of these questions regarding strategic stability didn’t need answering. But today, when there are a variety of SAPs [Special Access Programs that are classified higher than “Top Secret”—ed.] hiding ambiguous and unknown capabilities, we also have a situation where many ‘conventional’ moves (including cyber and space moves taking place out of sight) can increasingly be interpreted as precursors to a larger strategic attack. And yet, because of secrecy, we can not even assess the impact, leaving it to the Pentagon and STRATCOM to perfectly signal in a crisis, and to the Kremlin to perfectly understand public and secret moves. It’s too much to ask, which is why we need to know what these capabilities are.”

The Arkin/Ambinder article, they say, “is co-published with ‘The Secrets Machine.’ ”

Arkin and Ambinder, who between them have 65 years of experience researching and writing about national security programs whose implications for the nation and the world are kept hidden under layers of classification, have begun a joint project called “The Secrets Machine.” In a Jan. 25 article posted on their website they write that their objective is to “enhance understanding of what’s really going on, explain how secrets work, to shine light on the gaps between a stated policy or value and an actual practice; to fight back against the untrue conspiracies that many people project onto the government because of its inherent obscurantism.” They promise to reveal one new secret in each new article they post on their website.

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