The U.S. National Security Archive has fully declassified the most controversial nuclear policy document of the Cold War – the Presidential Directive 59 (PD-59), which focused on a possible nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Highly classified for decades, PD-59 was signed in July 1980 by President Jimmy Carter “during a period of heightened Cold War tensions due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, greater instability in the Middle East, and earlier strains over China policy, human rights, the Horn of Africa, and Euromissiles.”
The full text of the document is now available on the U.S. National Security Archive’s page at George Washington University’s website.
“The document provides insights about the thinking of key U.S. officials about the state of nuclear planning and the possible progression of events should war break out,” the archive said in an annotation to the document.
In a surprising reverse from previous policies, PD-59 called for pre-planned nuclear strike options and capabilities for rapid development of target plans against such key target categories as "military and control targets," including nuclear forces, command-and-control, stationary and mobile military forces, and industrial facilities that supported the military.
A key element of PD-59 was to use high-tech intelligence to find nuclear weapons targets, strike them with “pinpoint” precision, and then assess the damage.
The architects of PD-59 envisioned the possibility of protracted nuclear war with Soviet Union that avoided escalation to all-out conflict.
The archive’s annotation emphasizes the fact that the U.S. nuclear doctrine has not been altered much since PD-59 became effective, and “while President Obama has set a nuclear-free world as a policy goal, it is unlikely that nuclear planning arrangements will change significantly in the foreseeable future.”