U.S. Needs a New Nuclear Weapons Strategy

The next U.S. president must focus on fashioning a coherent national security doctrine.

By + More

He will need to reconsider fundamental matters of nuclear targeting. Such a reconsideration would examine certain basic differences between the targeting of enemy civilians and cities ("countervalue" targeting), and the targeting of enemy military assets and infrastructures ("counterforce" targeting).

Earlier, the essence of "massive retaliation" and "mutually assured destruction" had been countervalue targeting. Nonetheless, in those relatively promising circumstances where enemy rationality might still be reasonably assumed, effective and reliable U.S. deterrence could again require readily recognizable counter city targeting.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the United States Consider Military Action to Hinder Iran's Nuclear Program?]

At a time when Obama draws his main strategic policy options from thoroughly idealized and erroneous assumptions about nuclear disarmament, and when his Republican opponent seemingly ignores complex defense subjects altogether, Americans will finally need to understand something truly vital: Unless we give strategic planning the attention and resources it deserves, we will place ourselves at a renewed risk of unprecedented enemy attacks.

This is not the time for Americans to debate the already evident foolishness of a "nuclear weapons-free world," or to focus on individual nuclear threats as if they could somehow be remedied by disjointed, seat-of-the-pants responses. It is time, however, to forge an informed, nuanced, and verifiably capable U.S. strategic doctrine. This task will have to address still-impending prospects for preemption, as well as improved methods of distinguishing adversaries (state and substate) according to whether they are presumed rational, irrational, or "mad." It will also need to consider certain more-or-less interpenetrating and overlapping elements of nuclear deterrence, active defense, and cyberwarfare.

Whoever wins the coming election, our next president will need to consider U.S. strategic doctrine as an utterly overriding policy imperative.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Who Won the Obama-Romney Foreign Policy Debate?
  • Read Benjamin H. Friedman: Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama: Hawk vs. Hawk
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.