The World of September 11
The Federation of American Scientists has acquired documents which imply that the national nuclear targeting plan was altered to include regional targets after the September 11 attacks.
Rumors about such options have existed for years, but the document is the first authoritative evidence that fear of weapons of mass destruction attacks from outside Russia and China caused the Bush administration to broaden U.S. nuclear targeting policy by ordering the military to prepare a series of new options for nuclear strikes against regional proliferators. ...
The names of the "regional states" were also withheld, but three images used to illustrate the planning were released, and they leave little doubt who the regional states are... Five of these were listed in the NPR as examples of countries that were "immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies...setting requirements for nuclear strike capabilities": Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria.
Iraq presumably disappeared from the war plan again after U.S. forces invaded the country in March 2003 - only three weeks after OPLAN 8044 Revision 03 went into effect - and discovered that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. Libya presumably disappeared after December 2003, when President Muammar Gaddafi declared that he was giving up efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The nuclear strike plans against Iran, North Korea and Syria, however, presumably were carried forward into the next OPLAN 8044 Revision 05 from October 2004, a plan that was still in effect as recently as July 2007.
These documents hint at what may have been the dominant thinking of the time, influenced by the idea that terrorism was always at heart going to be "state sponsored terrorism". That the list has shrunk is good news, though it is an indirect indictment of how good intelligence on the subject was at the time. There is one notable omission from the list, assuming Iran, North Korea and Syria are still on the planning lists. And that is Pakistan, which remains a nominal US ally.
It's a glimpse into how much better -- and worse -- things are six years later. In the time since September 11, a number of alternative ways have been found to combat terrorism short of a total reliance on nuclear deterrence. Many of these methods are imperfect. There are probably still nuclear contingency plans in effect. But the development of conventional methods of meeting the terrorist threat suggests our understanding of the threat has becoming deeper and our capabilities more sophisticated.
The bad news is that novel threats emerge all the time. The situation in Pakistan, for example, is one that could not have been wholly foreseen, at least by the general public, in 2001. One wonders what plans will be declassified about 2007 in 2013? If we get there.