Clinton Nixes Nuke Option

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WASHINGTON: It's official: The United States can no longer win a nuclear war. At least, not a protracted one. From the late 1940s until yesterday, the Pentagon was technically allowed to bomb the blazes out of any foreign power, take their nukes on the chin, and sit tight in anticipation of victory whatever that would mean. But no longer. With a stroke of the pen, President Clinton has eradicated the option of a prolonged thermonuclear exchange from military guidelines.

Which might make some sleep easier. Others will be alarmed that it took 42 years of atomic weapons for a sitting president to figure this one out, or that the men who gave us Mutual Assured Destruction are still allowed to consider limited nuclear war a legitimate tactic.

"The military has generally done what it wanted to do, regardless of these Presidential Policy Directives," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "And Clinton needs the military so badly, he's not going to challenge them." Nor will the President tell us about it when he does: this directive was signed last month, and the press was only informed Sunday.

Still, the first directive on nuclear war since Reagan shows that the finger on the button is also on or near the national pulse. "I'm not sure that many people believed there was some credible definition of what it would mean to prevail in a protracted nuclear war," said Robert Bell, director of defense policy for the National Security Council. No kidding.