The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Nuclear Strategy and Today’s Operating Environment H301

At one time nuclear strategy was one of the central pillars of U.S. national defense strategy and foreign policy. Its related technologies were probably the most expensive items in the U.S. defense budget. Deterence was the central concept in the U.S. national strategy to meet the threat of nuclear attack. It was most graphically illustrated by the idea of mutually assured destruction (MAD). However, since the end of the Cold War the idea of nuclear war has been pushed to the margins of the national defense strategy debate. Since 9/11, strategy discussions have continued to largely ignore the issue of nuclear weapons.

There are two nuclear scenarios which have received some attention, both related to the issue of proliferation: one is nuclear armed “rogue” states –most specifically a nuclear armed Korea and the potential for a nuclear armed Iran; and the other threat is small scale “suitcase” nuclear terror attack. These threats are catagorized by the national defense strategy (NDS) as “catastrophic challenges.”

The 2005 NMS identifies the threat of WMD but it does not clearly articulate the role of the U.S. nuclear arsenal relative to the WMD and other threats. The 2006 national military strategy to combat WMD says that offensive operations ” Kinetic (both conventional and nuclear) and/or non-kinetic operations [will] defeat, neutralize or deter a WMD threat or subsequent use of WMD.” The NMS for WMD implies that deterence is still a central part of strategy to combat the threat of nuclear attack.

Some questions to consider regarding the role of nuclear weapons in current strategy:

Is deterence a viable strategy agains the nuclear threats in today’s operating environment? Is deterence against WMD integrated suffeciently with the overall national strategy? Is current U.S. strategy asymetric or symetric?

February 13, 2015 - Posted by | Current Events, H300, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Yes, I believe nuclear deterrence is a viable strategy against the nuclear threats in today’s operating environment because currently, the main powers that have nuclear capability are state actors. As the possibility and reality of non-state actors acquiring nuclear capability increases, nuclear deterrence will be less effective for numerous reason. Two in particular are motivation and location. The motivation of non-state actors may not be in line with traditional “rational ideas” that would discourage MAD. Furthermore, non-state actors are not constrained to a particular location or boundary. A non-state actor operating on their own accord could launch a nuclear weapon from a sovereign state which leaves the nuke for nuke option off the table.

    Comment by Alailima, SG 17B | March 30, 2015

  2. Technological advances mean it is increasingly possible to use conventional weapons in the counter-force role of nuclear strategy. This is at the heart of the “Prompt Global Strike” concept. The technology is still in its infancy, but if this is developed, combined with a (conventional) nuclear missile defence shield, the importance of nuclear weapons could be reduced to a much narrower range of scenarios.

    Comment by anniepani | July 19, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: