The role of nuclear weapons in the military posture of the United States is often ignored in the post-9/11 world. It shouldn't be, especially not as long as the Bush Administration continues to believe that preemption is a reasonable strategy for the United States.
On September 11, Walter Pincus reported in the Washington Post that the Pentagon's draft revision of nuclear weapons doctrine (Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, March 15, 2005) allows military commanders to request the use of nuclear weapons to preempt WMD use by states or terrorist groups against the United States. Such a policy, if adopted, would marry the considerable risks associated with all preemptive uses of military force (including those relating to Iraq and faulty assumptions regarding active WMD programs) to the international revulsion that would inevitably accompany the first-use of nuclear weapons. The international community would regard the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 as absolutely right and proper in comparison with preemption using nuclear weapons.
Others apparently agree. Yesterday Pincus reported that the Pentagon is having second thoughts about the change in nuclear doctrine after members of Congress and others expressed alarm following the first Post story on the topic.