Nuclear strategy

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Nuclear strategy involves the development of doctrines and strategies for the production and use of nuclear weapons.

As a sub-branch of military strategy, nuclear strategy attempts to match nuclear weapons as means to political ends. In addition to the actual use of nuclear weapons whether in the battlefield or strategically, a large part of nuclear strategy involves their use as a bargaining tool.

Some of the issues considered within nuclear strategy include:

  • Under what conditions does it serve a nation's interest to develop nuclear weapons?
  • What types of nuclear weapons should be developed?
  • When and how should such weapons be used?

Many strategists argue that nuclear strategy differs from other forms of military strategy because the immense and terrifying power of the weapons makes their use in seeking victory in a traditional military sense impossible.

Perhaps counterintuitively, an important focus of nuclear strategy has been determining how to prevent and deter their use, a crucial part of mutual assured destruction.

In the context of nuclear proliferation and maintaining the balance of power, states also seek to prevent other states from acquiring nuclear weapons as part of nuclear strategy.

Nuclear deterrent composition

The doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) assumes that a nuclear deterrent force must be credible and survivable. That is, each deterrent force must survive a first strike with sufficient capability to effectively destroy the other country in a second strike. Therefore, a first strike would be suicidal for the launching country.

In the late 1940s and 1950s as the Cold War developed, the United States and Soviet Union pursued multiple delivery methods and platforms to deliver nuclear weapons. Three types of platforms proved most successful and are collectively called a "nuclear triad". These are air-delivered weapons (bombs or missiles), ballistic missile submarines (usually nuclear-powered and called SSBNs), and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), usually deployed in land-based hardened missile silos or on vehicles.

Although not considered part of the deterrent forces, all of the nuclear powers deployed large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons in the Cold War. These could be delivered by virtually all platforms capable of delivering large conventional weapons.

See also


Early texts

Secondary literature