Poll: At least one quarter of Americans want to nuke ISIS

While a new poll released March 31 by Public Policy Polling was focused on general election Republican vs. Democratic presidential candidate match-ups, one piece of information hiding in the survey was most interesting.

When asked whether or not they would "support or oppose attacking ISIS with nuclear weapons," 24% of respondents said they would support the policy, with 62% opposing and 14% unsure.

The poll comes after GOP presidential nominee frontrunner Donald Trump indicated last week that as president, he would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in the war against ISIS.

Since these comments, many have questioned whether any plausible scenarios exist under which the U.S. could use nuclear weapons against ISIS without also causing massive casualties among a (presumably) nonaligned civilian population.  Certainly one could foresee the employment of small-yield tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS training camps and concentrations of battle combatants in regions away from civilian populations.

Others claim that "[c]urrent US nuclear policy says we will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear opponents. That has been US policy for about a half-century."

This is not U.S. nuclear policy.  According to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report, the policy is as follows:

[T]he United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing "negative security assurance" by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations[.] ...

In the case of countries not covered by this assurance – states that possess nuclear weapons and states not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations – there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW [chemical and biological weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners. The United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons[.] ...

[T]he United States wishes to stress that it would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.

Thus, in order to fall under the current American "negative security assurance" doctrine, an opponent would need to be a "state" that is a "party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations."  Since ISIS is arguably not a "state" (despite its name), and certainly not a state party to the NPT and in compliance with this treaty, the "negative security assurance" does not likely apply to ISIS.

As a result, ISIS almost certainly falls outside the assurance, being either not a "state" or, at the least, an actor that is "not in compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations," meaning "there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW attack against the United States or its allies and partners" by ISIS.

Trump's Glass Parking Lot doctrine against ISIS may cause hysteria on MSNBC, but it appears to be in full compliance with the current U.S. nuclear posture.

While a new poll released March 31 by Public Policy Polling was focused on general election Republican vs. Democratic presidential candidate match-ups, one piece of information hiding in the survey was most interesting.

When asked whether or not they would "support or oppose attacking ISIS with nuclear weapons," 24% of respondents said they would support the policy, with 62% opposing and 14% unsure.

The poll comes after GOP presidential nominee frontrunner Donald Trump indicated last week that as president, he would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in the war against ISIS.

Since these comments, many have questioned whether any plausible scenarios exist under which the U.S. could use nuclear weapons against ISIS without also causing massive casualties among a (presumably) nonaligned civilian population.  Certainly one could foresee the employment of small-yield tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS training camps and concentrations of battle combatants in regions away from civilian populations.

Others claim that "[c]urrent US nuclear policy says we will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear opponents. That has been US policy for about a half-century."

This is not U.S. nuclear policy.  According to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report, the policy is as follows:

[T]he United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing "negative security assurance" by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations[.] ...

In the case of countries not covered by this assurance – states that possess nuclear weapons and states not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations – there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW [chemical and biological weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners. The United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons[.] ...

[T]he United States wishes to stress that it would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.

Thus, in order to fall under the current American "negative security assurance" doctrine, an opponent would need to be a "state" that is a "party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations."  Since ISIS is arguably not a "state" (despite its name), and certainly not a state party to the NPT and in compliance with this treaty, the "negative security assurance" does not likely apply to ISIS.

As a result, ISIS almost certainly falls outside the assurance, being either not a "state" or, at the least, an actor that is "not in compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations," meaning "there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW attack against the United States or its allies and partners" by ISIS.

Trump's Glass Parking Lot doctrine against ISIS may cause hysteria on MSNBC, but it appears to be in full compliance with the current U.S. nuclear posture.