nuclear strategy


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nuclear strategy,

a policy for the use of nuclear weaponsnuclear weapons,
weapons of mass destruction powered by atomic, rather than chemical, processes. Nuclear weapons produce large explosions and hazardous radioactive byproducts by means of either nuclear fission or nuclear fusion.
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. The first atomic bombsatomic bomb
or A-bomb,
weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy atomic nuclei. The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex., laboratory and successfully tested on July 16, 1945.
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 were used in the context of the Allies' World War II policy of strategic bombing. Early in the cold warcold war,
term used to describe the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and
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, U.S. policy was for massive retaliation with Strategic Air CommandStrategic Air Command
(SAC), former command of the U.S. air force (see Air Force, United States Department of the) charged with organizing, training, equipping, administering, and preparing strategic air forces for combat; it was headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base.
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 bombers in the event of war with the USSR. In 1949, after the Soviets exploded their first atomic device, the United States elaborated other policies, but these did not affect the ever-increasing numbers, types, and explosive force of nuclear arsenals throughout the world.

During the cold war, the nuclear strategies of the United States and the USSR ranged from straightforward deterrence to the threat of massive retaliation during the early 1950s, to limited forward deployment in the late 1950s, to various forms of flexible response in the 1960s. These have included the options of aiming nuclear weapons at other nuclear weapons and aiming them at enemy cities. Behind all of these approaches is the idea that any nuclear war would involve mutual assured destruction (MAD) for the principals, and possibly for the world as well. As a result, the United States developed a weapons arsenal large enough to ensure that enough weapons would survive an enemy first strike to retaliate effectively.

The cold war spawned a subculture of nuclear strategists who moved among jobs in academia, at think tanks (see Rand CorporationRand Corporation,
research institution in Santa Monica, Calif.; founded 1948 and supported by federal, state, and local governments, as well as by foundations and corporations. Its principal fields of research are national security and public welfare.
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), and in government departments. Some (see Henry KissingerKissinger, Henry Alfred
, 1923–, American political scientist and U.S. secretary of state (1973–77), b. Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1938. A leading expert on international relations and nuclear defense policy, Kissinger taught (1957–69) at
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; Herman KahnKahn, Herman
, 1922–83, American military strategist. b. Bayonne, N.J. After graduate work in physics at the California Institute of Technology, he joined the Rand Corporation. Unlike scholars such as Bernard Brodie, he believed that nuclear war could be won.
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) theorized on how to use nuclear weapons politically and militarily. They proposed various strategies for winning a nuclear war, including first, managing escalation so that the weaker nation withdraws before a full exchange occurs; second, staging a massive first strike that preempts an effective response; third, launching a surgical first strike that destroys enemy leadership; and fourth, a technological breakthrough that makes effective strategic defense possible.

Other strategists (Daniel EllsbergEllsberg, Daniel,
1931–, American political activist, b. Chicago, grad. Columbia Univ. (B.S., 1952, Ph.D., 1959). After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he worked for the Rand Corporation (1959–64; 1967–70), conducting studies on defense policies.
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; Bernard BrodieBrodie, Bernard,
1910–78, American military strategist, b. Chicago. Brodie edited The Absolute Weapon (1946), the first book on nuclear strategy, and was a strategic theorist at the Rand Corporation (1951–66).
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) concluded that nuclear weapons were so unlike conventional weapons that they changed war fundamentally. Defense proposals, such as the civil defense complexes and antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses of the 1950s and 60s (and the later Strategic Defense InitiativeStrategic Defense Initiative
(SDI), former U.S. government program responsible for research and development of a space-based system to defend the nation from attack by strategic ballistic missiles (see guided missile).
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), were seen as destabilizing because they included the concept of acceptable losses in a nuclear conflict. At various times the United States and the USSR pursued arms control proposals designed to improve the stability of the balance of power and to prevent nuclear proliferation (see disarmament, nucleardisarmament, nuclear,
the reduction and limitation of the various nuclear weapons in the military forces of the world's nations. The atomic bombs dropped (1945) on Japan by the United States in World War II demonstrated the overwhelming destructive potential of nuclear weapons
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). Opponents of nuclear war have popularized the theory that it could trigger a climatic disaster (see nuclear winternuclear winter,
theory holding that the smoke and dust produced by a large nuclear war would result in a prolonged period of cold on the earth. The earliest version of the theory, which was put forward in the early 1980s in the so-called TTAPS report (named for last initials of
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); pacifists consider nuclear weapons the ultimate argument against war. Some analysts point to the way that nuclear policy has served the interests of what President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex."

The end of the cold war eliminated the fear of a U.S.-USSR confrontation, but both the United States and Russia retain substantial forces. The danger now comes primarily from smaller, less stable nations in more volatile areas of the world that may develop or obtain nuclear weapons capabilities. During the Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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, the United States and its allies were concerned about how close Iraq was to developing an operational nuclear weapon. The threat of nuclear war has profoundly shaped human language and culture in the late 20th cent.

Bibliography

See J. Schell, The Fate of the Earth (1982); F. Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (1983); G. Herken, Counsels of War (1985); L. Martin, The Changing Face of Nuclear Warfare (1987); L. Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (2d ed. 1989).

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