WASHINGTON – The United States is declaring that it will pull out all the stops and use any means necessary — including nuclear weapons — against Iraq or other hostile countries in response to a chemical or biological attack.
The threat to use "overwhelming force" if the U.S. or its allies are attacked is included in the White House's six-page "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction," to be delivered to Congress on Wednesday.
The United States "reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force — including through resort to all of our options — to the use of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad and friends and allies," the statement reads.
The implicit threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation is a deterrent to hostile governments, said senior administration officials who briefed journalists about the document Tuesday.
This same warning was not included in a similar strategy issued by the Clinton administration in 1993, although at different times it warned that any attack on the United States using weapons of mass destruction would result in the U.S. unleashing its wrath.
The officials said President Bush has assigned many federal agencies to determine how to enact the strategy. The president is also spending "considerable sums" of money and manpower on research into new counterproliferation strategies other than missile defense.
They emphasized that the strategy, developed jointly by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge, is a statement of the Bush administration's overarching principles.
Its timing, however, coincides with other muscle-flexing by Bush designed to show Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the United States is serious about seeing him disarmed.
The White House document includes doctrines for prevention, deterrence and defense that Bush has enunciated since taking office, including a commitment to boost programs aimed at containing the damage of any chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack.
In a top-secret appendix, The Washington Post reports, the strategy names Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya among the countries that are the central focus of the new U.S. approach. Administration officials said that doesn't mean Bush intends to use military force in any of those countries, but that he is determined to stop weapons transfers in or out of their borders.
The strategy, which represents the first revision of national security strategy since 1993 and turns away from the Cold War doctrine based on deterrence and containment, said some unspecified states that support terrorists already have weapons of mass destruction and seek even more "as tools of coercion and intimidation."
"For them, these are not weapons of last resort, but militarily useful weapons of choice intended to overcome our nation's advantages in conventional forces and to deter us from responding to aggression against our friends," the document said. "Because each of these regimes is different, we will pursue country-specific strategies that best enable us and our friends and allies to prevent, deter and defend against WMD and missile threat."
"We must accord the highest priority to the protection of the United States, our forces and our friends and allies," it continued.
The strategy relies on three 'pillars' to combat weapons of mass destruction.
One is protection against those weapons, which includes the policy of preemptive attacks and development of a missile defense, as well as interdiction.
The second is non-proliferation agreements. Administration officials say there are several non-proliferation treaties they're trying to strengthen.
The third pillar is consequence management, under which the president has earmarked billions of dollars for research into ways to improve the country's ability to respond to and reduce the effects of weapons of mass destruction.
The strategy has effectively been in place for several months and has resulted in directives to a number of government agencies.
While nonproliferation relies on international treaties and laws to prevent countries from producing mass destruction arms, counterproliferation depends on force or physical disruption to stop them.
But the classified version is premised on a view that "traditional nonproliferation has failed, and now we're going into active interdiction," one participant who helped draft it told The Washington Post.
Active interdiction, he said, "is physical -- it's disruption, it's destruction in any form, whether kinetic or cyber."
One official posed the hypothetical scenario of a shipment of special weapons traveling to Libya via the Philippines.
"We're going to interdict or destroy or disrupt that shipment or, during the transloading process, it is going to mysteriously disappear," the official said.
The somewhat vague public version doesn't address specifically the priorities it asserts, nor does it assign them any budget numbers. Instead, those details were contained in classified directives issued to relevant federal departments a couple of months ago, officials said.
Other details of the strategy include state and local preparations for emergency response in case of an attack on the United States.
It also calls for tighter controls on nuclear materials, better export controls and the strengthening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, endorsed by the Bush administration, reports The New York Times.
"Every administration comes under criticism, for not having an integrated strategy on issues like this," a senior administration official said. "We do."
The document recalls a warning sent to Saddam by former Secretary of State James Baker on the eve of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, which said the United States would use any means necessary against a U.S. attacker and that Iraq would pay a "terrible price" if it used chemical or biological weapons.
An administration official told the Times that Baker's warning came "when hostilities were imminent," a point not yet reached this time around.
A letter from then-President George H.W. Bush promised "the strongest possible response" if Iraq were to use chemical and biological weapons against U.S. and allied troops.
A senior administration official said the 1991 letter had its intended effect. "He [Hussein] didn't cross the line of using chemical or biological weapons," the official said. "The Iraqis have told us that they interpreted that letter as meaning that the United States would use nuclear weapons, and it was a powerful deterrent."
This President Bush has already warned the Iraqi military against using such harmful weapons, saying its leaders would be considered war criminals if they did so.
The strategy's priorities will be reflected in the new budget Bush submits to Congress in February.
Also on Tuesday, Bush used a private White House meeting with Turkish political leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to press for permission for U.S. troops to use Turkish bases. The president argues that the display of solidarity could persuade Saddam to give up his weapons without much resistance.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.