The Pentagon is downplaying concerns that the Bush administration may be lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons. The concerns have arisen following the disclosure of segments of a classified nuclear planning document.
The classified document is called the Nuclear Posture Review. It is reported to cite the need for developing new, low-yield nuclear weapons and suggests their possible use against non-nuclear opponents who may be developing chemical or biological arms.
Pentagon officials will not discuss secret details of military contingency planning.
But they insist the document provides no operational guidance on nuclear targeting nor does it call for the development of any new nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, these officials do acknowledge the Defense Department is now planning for a broad range of what they term unforeseen threats.
They also concede the administration is fashioning what they say is a more diverse set of options for deterring the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
The officials give no details.
But in addition to possible nuclear responses, the administration is pursuing missile defenses, advanced conventional forces and improved intelligence capabilities.
A Pentagon statement says a combination of offensive and defensive capabilities, nuclear and non-nuclear, is essential to meet the deterrence requirements of the 21st century.
The classified Posture Review reportedly cites several countries that pose a threat to the United States that could require a nuclear response. These include Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Asked about this, a Pentagon spokeswoman says only that the United States does not target any country on a day-to-day basis.