Over the next 25 years or so, the United States plans to recapitalize its triad of submarines, bombers, and missiles that deliver strategic nuclear weapons, building new versions of these weapons to extend a 50-year-old force structure for another half century. Yet today’s strategic environment is not that of the 1960s, and tomorrow’s may differ even further, if only because of regional nuclear powers and non-state adversaries. Are the challenges of that environment best met by replicating, presumably with fewer weapons, a force structure intended to survive, at least in part, a massive Soviet attack? And is the thinking that produced the earlier plans the best way to approach future challenges?
A Hope, Not A Plan
The central concept underlying the current force structure, of course, is deterrence, an aspiration embraced in the nuclear era as a default option imposed on military planners by weapon technologies. Unable to prevent a comparably-armed enemy from destroying the United States, Americans could only hope to avoid being disarmed. What the surviving weapons would be used for is the subject of presidential guidance and has long been debated, but the ability to retaliate, whatever the targets, was thought to provide the best achievable response to mortal threats. Keep reading →