The document, written by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives...
A "summary of changes" included in the draft identifies differences from the 1995 doctrine, and says the new document "revises the discussion of nuclear weapons use across the range of military operations."
The first example for potential nuclear weapon use listed in the draft is against an enemy that is using "or intending to use WMD" against U.S. or allied, multinational military forces or civilian populations.
The article points out that Congress has at least taken some steps away from the nuclear abyss, particularly by refusing to fund new categories of nuclear weapons. But that's cold comfort when the U.S. is capable of wiping out whatever it wants to with the weapons it already possesses.
The effect of the proposed standard would be to give any president carte blanche to launch a nuclear weapon based on another state's intent. There would no requirement for existing war or conflict (which is of course the only situation in which atomic weapons have been used), no requirement for the scope of the intended use, not even a requirement that the state or entity in question actually possess WMDs. As long as the president firmly believed that an entity planned to use WMDs in some form at some point in the future, that would be grounds to send in the nukes.
The concept is bad enough in principle, but it's particularly egregious given that the language used is exactly that used in the invasion of Iraq. If the proposed policy had been in effect at the time of the invasion, then Bush would have had documented approval to wipe Iraq off the face of the earth, in spite of the actual absence of WMDs. And to my knowledge, Bush never stopped making the "Saddam intended to use WMDs eventually" claim: the policy could ultimately be spun as retroactive justification for nuclear action in an effort to minimize the actual harms from the war.
Mind you, the danger for spin is far less important than the danger of an itchy trigger finger in the future. And while this administration may be particularly eager to go to war based on innuendo and reverse onuses, it's difficult to justify any future administration (no matter how peaceful or competent) having a need to use nuclear weapons in response to a threat believed only as a matter of intent.
Unfortunately, Bushco still has control over the button for a few more years. And thanks to the policy that it's ordered, the threat of a nuclear attack in that time looks far too real.