WASHINGTON -- For the first time since the advent of the nuclear age, a large number of targets in the former communist world are being deleted from the U.S. nuclear war plan following a two-year, top-secret Pentagon review, say U.S. sources.
The reductions -- well over 1,000 and perhaps more than 2,000 -- represent about 20 percent or more of the total group of about 8,500 Soviet-bloc targets that were to be struck by some 12,000 U.S. nuclear weapons in the event of an all-out war, the sources say.
The changes represent a major "peace dividend" provided by the end of the Cold War. They also reflect anticipated reductions in U.S. long-range nuclear weapons as budget cuts and arms control treaties bite into the Pentagon's arsenal over the next decade.
About 1,000 of the scratched targets are in the former Warsaw Pact states of Eastern Europe. They include former Soviet military bases and command facilities in those countries, as well as the former allies' military bases and war-making industrial sites, like steel mills in Bulgaria and tank factories in Czechoslovakia.
The rest of the eliminated targets are in the Soviet Union itself. Some will be removed from the war plan by "scrubbing" targets that were highly dubious to begin with, such as unmanned alternative command posts and reserve air strips.
Other changes will reduce the number of required weapons by reforming wasteful "overkill" rules, such as dropping four or more weapons on the same target to ensure destruction of "high value" facilities such as underground command centers and setting unnecessarily high "damage expectancy" criteria.
The targeting review appears to be the first step in a long-awaited effort to reform America's nuclear war plan. For decades, the Pentagon expanded the list of targets to keep pace with nuclear warhead production.