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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Strike: First or Second AUTHOR Major Ronald A. Seyle, USAF CSC 1988 SUBJECT AREA - General EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: NUCLEAR STRIKE: FIRST OR SECOND I. Purpose: To show that the threat of nuclear first strike is vital to the US and NATO policy of deterrence through "flexible- response." II. Problem: Since the first use of the atomic bomb, USSR and US nuclear arsenals have grown to devastating proportions. Both countries have struggled in developing sound policies which guide the employment of these arsenals. Because of the devastating potential of these weapons, many argue against their first use, Even though our current doctrine of "flexible-response" allows for the first use of nuclear weapons, acceptance of this doctrine requires a new perspective of just how this policy strengthens US and NATO strategies of deterrence. III. Data: The strategic doctrine of "flexible-response" has been US policy since 1962 and NATO strategy since 1967. This policy is the backbone of our alliance commitment and warns the enemy that NATO's deterrence of a conventional attack is enhanced by our ability and resolve to use nuclear weapons, if necessary, to halt aggression. This policy is misunderstood by many. In this regard, opponents of this strategy argue that first use is inappropriate under any circumstances. They argue that such a threat invites rampant escalation of any conflict. Opponents further argue for a shift to conventional buildups and believe that alliance consensus for second use will be more easily achieved. In reality, the threat of first use of nuclear weapons is the only true deterrent against Warsaw Pact aggression. This threat actually decreases the likelihood of both conventional and nuclear war and its follow on escalation. Additionally, the threat of first use complicates enemy strategy through uncertainty. Conventional buildups are too expensive and have never guaranteed to deter enemy aggression. In fact, without the threat of nuclear deterrent weapons, conventional war would be much more likely and would most assuredly result in unparalleled destruction. The threat of nuclear first use has clearly gained the attention of Soviet leaders. Recent evidence indicates a shift in Soviet nuclear thinking. This shift speaks soundly for our current deterrent doctrine of "flexible-response." IV. Conclusion: Even though current US and NATO nuclear deterrent doctrines are over twenty years old, they are working. Let's not change them. V. Recommendation: Professional military schools at all levels must incorporate more thorough discussions of US and NATO nuclear deterrent strategies. This will be necessary in order that future strategic decision makers are able to ward off first use opponents and develop sound nuclear strategies. NUCLEAR STRIKE: FIRST OR SECOND OUTLINE Thesis statement. First use of nuclear weapons is vital to the US and NATO policy of deterrence through flexible response. I. Nuclear background A. Current NATO/Warsaw arsenals warrant attention. B. It all began July 16, 1945. C. Evolution has been rapid. D. Strategies and policies have developed slowly, II. Current doctrine A. Deterrence is the aim. B. Flexible response is US policy. l. Flexible response allows first use. 2. Flexible response expands President's options. C. NATO has adopted flexible response. III. 0pposing views A. Argue that military balance has changed. B. Fear "crisis escalation." C. Promote conventional buildup. D. Advocate second use. IV. The case for first strike A. It is a true deterrent threat. B. It complicates enemy strategy. C. It decreases the likelihood of waj. D. It denounces conventional buildup. l. As too costly 2. As no guarantee V. Soviet responses A. Brezhnev sets new principles at 1977 Tula address, B. Gorbachev continues these principles. NUCLEAR STRIKE: FIRST OR SECOND By: Major R. A. Seyle, USAF "For the United States to seek first strike capability seems implausible." - Robert C. Aldridge ".... of course, flexible response strategy is supposed to keep a small war limited so as not to unduly threaten the Sino-Soviets. But for the life of me, I can't see why the communists would be less eager to engage us because we act equivocal rather than tough." - General Curtis E. Lemay The essence of United States' strategic doctrine is labeled "flexible response." This approach is the key feature of our deterrent strategy.3 Secretary of Defense, Frank Carlucci, spel- led out this policy in his annual report to the Congress for the fiscal year 1990, and in doing so, he clearly emphasized the importance of this doctrine for our national security. "While emphasizing our resolve to respond," he noted, "flexible response avoids specifying what our response may be." Nuclear response has been debated for over four decades now. The quotes cited above clearly indicate that nuclear strategies have supporters at each end of the spectrum regardless of how the spectrum is analyzed. Many strategist support positions somewhere in between the extremes of the nuclear spectrum. Other students of US nuclear strategy have even concluded that the United States has no single, integrated strategic doctrine. Instead, they believe it has simply amassed a contradictory mixture of principles which has produced serious discrepancies between government policy and military employment.4 Whatever view is taken of nuclear strategies, I feel one aspect is often mis-thought: the first use of nuclear weapons. The first use of nuclear weapons is vital to US and NATO policies of deterrence through flexible response. Unfortunately, when nuclear weapons are discussed, emotions tend to cloud the process. This is even more true when first use is advocated. When analyzing nuclear strategies, placing ones head in the sand and hoping the nuclear arsenals and dilemmas will go away is not an option. Those responsible for our national security must respect the arsenals of both the Warsaw Pact and the NATO alliance. Both have amassed tremendous nuclear capabilities. In just over forty years, these nuclear arsenals have developed so quickly that both the USSR and the US have had trouble keeping pace in developing sound nuclear strategies. The summer issue of Defense `88 points out just how vast these rapidly developing arsenals are. The NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact total over 8,000 aircraft capable of nuclear delivery. In addition, both groups possess approximately 12,000 nuclear artillery pieces/launchers.5 In 1984, the USSR and the US possessed over 4,400 bombers or missiles capable of delivering over 20,000 nuclear warheads.6 In the same year, the US alone had thirty-three ballistic missile launching submarines.7 The Soviet Union has countered by placing the first of a new class of Typhoon submarine into operation. This class sub is larger and heavier than the United States' Trident submarine. It also has the capability to operate beneath the Artic ice and then break through as it surfaces to launch its missiles.8 The tremendous capabilities and numbers of these weapons cannot be ignored. This weapons race began on July 16, 1945, when Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the research program which led to the development of the atomic bomb, observed the first atomic test: explosion. He had created the nuclear age. Three weeks later history's second atomic blast ripped through the Japanese city of Hiroshima.9 Only three days after that, the nuclear specter struck again as Nagasaki disappeared in a fiery massacre.10 Forty years later, nuclear arsenals continue to grow at record shattering paces. How to best employ these arsenals is still a perplexing problem. Analysis of this problem may best be begun by reviewing the evolution of nuclear weapons. For several years after the discovery of nuclear fission, the United States had a monopoly on nuclear weapons.11 Gradually, as the Soviet union perfected and increased its development of nuclear weapons, the United States lost its strategic edge. A period of decisive superiority in nuclear weapons followed. Beginning in 1970, this superiority had eroded into nuclear parity which exists today.12 During the periods of monopoly and superiority, the US advocated its ability to start and win a nuclear war.13 Nuclear strategies were not much more complicated than that. However, with the advent of nuclear parity, there is now a definite need for those responsible to pull their heads out of the sand and critically analyze our nuclear strategies. Due to this parity, many feel - I do not - the incentive for nuclear first use has diminished. First use of nuclear weapons is still a critical element of our nuclear doctrine. Over the past forty years, there has really only been one significant change in this nuclear doctrine - the shift during the Kennedy administration from massive retaliation to flexible response.14 This shift is tremendously significant in that it openly supports first use of nuclear weapons. The old doctrine of massive retaliation sought to deter any form of Soviet aggression through the threat of immediate, large scale nuclear attacks against military, leadership, and urban industrial targets in the Soviet Union. This policy was too inflexible, providing the president with only two options in the event of Soviet aggression: do nothing or launch a massive attack against the Soviet Union.15 As the Soviets acquired a stronger nuclear capability, including the ability to strike targets in the US, the credibility of a deterrent force based solely upon massive retaliation declined.16 The change to a new flexible response doctrine improved US deterrent credibility by increasing the number of options available to the president. This doctrine provided the capability to respond to Soviet aggression at the level at which it was initiated or to escalate the conflict to a higher level. Flexible response confronts the Soviet attack planners with the possibility that we may respond to a conventional attack with conventional forces. Or, if that fails, we may respond with non- strategic nuclear weapons or limited or massive use of US strategic nuclear weapons against targets in the Soviet homeland. Flexible response has enhanced deterrent credibility, multiplying the uncertainties confronting Soviet leadership and confronting him with a threat with costs that would outweigh any gains that might be achieved through aggression.17 The doctrine of flexible response was first adopted by the US in 1962.18 In 1980, President Carter signed Presidential Directive No. 59 (PD-59) which reaffirmed US support for this doctrine.19 NATO followed in 1967 by approving MC 14/3, the NATO document which explains this strategy.20 This doctrine advocates employing nuclear weapons at two levels. On one level, US non-strategic weapons - both land and sea- based - are incorporated into US and NATO planning. These weapons could be employed to degrade Soviet military operations in a particular theatre and to induce Soviet leadership to cease its aggression through the threat of further escalation. Strategic nuclear weapons systems are also included in planning on this level. These systems are planned to be used for limited nuclear options (LNOs) to provide a capability to retaliate against military installations deeper in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union.21 The incorporation of US non-strategic and strategic systems into the NATO plans provides the president with many more options.22 On the second level, strategic nuclear systems are incorporated into US nuclear war planning. These devastating weapons provide the president with a series of large- scale, alternative responses to a massive Soviet nuclear attack. These systems also provide the backbone for our alliance commitments under what is commonly referred to as the "nuclear umbrella." Since the inception of flexible response, planning for large- scale, retaliatory options has emphasized the capability to strike at Soviet military targets separately or congruently with attacks on Soviet leadership installations and industrial bases. The intent of these attacks is to deny the Soviet Union the ability to achieve its war aims. By providing these credible responses at both levels to potential Soviet threats, these flexible response options strongly fortify deterrence.23 A key component of this strategy of flexible response is the capability to use nuclear weapons as appropriate in the event of a conventional attack that threatens to defeat NATO defenses.24 Another indispensable characteristic of any successful deterrent posture is credibility. We seek to instill this in our potential adversaries with a measure of uncertainty. We must seek to deter potential adversaries by the uncertainty that arises when we avoid specifying the exact means, location, timing, and scope of our response to any aggression.25 The fact that no nuclear weapon has been used in aggression in for over forty years speaks soundly for the deteral value of our flexible response doctrine. I see no need to alter a doctrine which has produced such satisfying results - nuclear parity or not. Those who support changing this doctrine's approach propose that NATO and US abandon the option of nuclear first use.26 The basis for their case is that the military balance is quite different now than when this doctrine was initiated over twenty years ago. Some critics of flexible response point out that the Soviets have achieved not only strategic nuclear parity but theatre nuclear superiority. These developments, the critics claim, have invalidated the current strategy. These critics further claim that reliance on flexible response, with its first strike threat, for deterrence might prompt Soviet leaders under crisis to deduce that the gains from aggression outweigh the costs.27 Under such a crisis situation, this group claims that no one can have confidence that any use of nuclear weapons, even on the smallest scale, would not lead to to further and more devastating exchanges. This no first use group believes that such exchanges would assuredly lead to rampart escalation and total destruction. Furthermore, this group claims that deterrence would be enhanced by not embracing the threat of nuclear first use. They reason that we already have the capability for appropriate retaliation to any kind of Soviet nuclear attack, leaving the USSR no doubt it should adhere to its own no first use policy. This group further argues that a policy of no first use would also reduce the risk of conventional aggression because our conventional forces could be improved with a shift in emphasis from nuclear effort to a conventional buildup. A shift such as this, the group feels, would increase our credibility since it would be easier to establish an alliance consensus for second use of nuclear forces should the Warsaw Pact employ its weapons first.28 In my opinion, the only way to increase our credibility is to embrace the only true deterrent to Warsaw Pact aggression - the threat of nuclear first strike. This threat includes the possibility of continuing the nuclear exchange to annihilate the Soviet homeland: a threat with teeth. It is true that the nuclear balance has shifted over the last twenty years, but military objectives have not. Our objective is still to prevent the enemy from fighting. Failing this, our objective is to defeat him. This philosophy has not changed over the years. Nor. should twenty years of nuclear development change this thinking. I also refute the the theory of escalation. In reality, a no first use policy would increase, not decrease the likelihood of both conventional and nuclear war and its follow on escalation. It would remove the key source of NATO's deterrence - the threat of possible nuclear retaliation to any kind of enemy aggression. In addition, a no first use policy sends the wrong signal to the Soviet Union, making it appear that NATO would rather accept conventional defeat than resort to any form of nuclear strike.29 The most likely way to correct this erroneous signal is through a credible first use policy. Deterrence of war is better enhanced by our threat of nuclear first use. Such a potent threat complicates enemy strategy. The critical question for Soviet leaders under this threat is not the capability of NATO or US forces, but the will of the allied forces to use the total spectrum of their arsenals and to do so early. Potential aggressors can never be quite sure when or how NATO might use its nuclear capability to respond. Such uncertainty is a central factor in NATO and US deterrent formulas. Any predetermined reaction to aggression, such as a guarantee of no first use of nuclear weapons, would undermine these formulas. Halting a conventional attack with the early use of nuclear weapons is the only true deterrent to Warsaw Pact aggression.30 Conventional buildup to counter the risks of enemy conventional aggression is virtually impossible to achieve given the budgetary constraints in the alliance nations - especially in the US.31 Even if such buildups were to take place, in no way would they assure the success of a non-nuclear defense. If nuclear weapons had never been invented, a conventional war between the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact would have been much more probable.32 Conventional forces alone have failed to deter war in all ages, even when equal to those of the aggressor. Although a no first use doctrine may assure that nuclear weapons would not be used in conflict, a conventional war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact would be more likely and would most assuredly bring about unparalleled destruction. Such destruction would also be evident should the NATO alliance employ the second use concept. Many feel the alliance can gain support for this concept more readily, thereby increasing its credibility. Second use, in my opinion, is just too late. To concede such vast destruction uncontested is an unthinkable approach. In today's nuclear parity environment, it is critical that alliance nuclear policies deter war against Warsaw Pact aggression. First strike's most important contributions are through deterrence. As a deterrent, we need these capabilities more than the Soviets do.33 Evidence shows the Soviets view our nuclear capabilities and doctrine with much respect. Throughout the last decade, the Soviet politico-military leadership has shown this respect by providing startling evidence of new soviet thinking on nuclear war. Leading Soviet military thinkers have themselves traced the origin of these new thoughts to evolving technological developments and to a perceived US policy of a "no-holds-barred" offensive against socialism and its aggression.34 In his 1977 address at Tula, General Secretary Brezhnev affirmed that the USSR was no longer striving for superiority in armaments with the aim of delivering a first strike.33 This enunciation is a ground breaking shift from traditional Soviet nuclear thinking. And since his elevation to General Secretary in 1985, Mr. Gorbachev has not only reaffirmed these Tula principles, but has also attempted to lower existing levels of parity and mutual deterrence through a comprehensive program of arms control proposals. 35 Additionally, a growing body of evidence indicates that by 1980 the Soviet politico-military leadership had downgraded all nuclear contingencies in favor of an independent, conventional war option as their long-term military development goal. Western analyst are in turn documenting more and more changes in operational art and force developments that point clearly to a Soviet preference for conventional warfare. 36 The Soviets continue to publicly make negative assessments of US policy under the Reagan/Bush administrations. However, the Tula principles continue to shape Soviet strategy. In my opinion, this shift in Soviet nuclear thinking is directly attributable to a sound US/NATO policy of flexible response - with its threat of nuclear first use. This policy has now been supported by six presidents over the last twenty years. Unmistakingly, it has achieved favorable results. Such favorable results highlight the credibility which the flexible response doctrine, with its nuclear first strike options, has given us. Hopefully, future Soviet - US treaties will continue to reduce nuclear arsenals. Nevertheless, as long as we each have at least one nuclear weapon remaining, we should not support any policy which denies us the option to use that weapon first. The nuclear first use option is essential to the NATO and US strategy of deterrence through flexible response. ENDNOTES 1. Robert C. Aldridge, First Strike! The Pentagon's Strategy for Nuclear War (Boston: South End Press,1983), p.4. 2. Thomas M. Coffey, Iron Eagle (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.,1986) p.444. 3. Report of the Secretary of the Defense, "Annual Report to Congress, FY 1990," US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1989,p.34. 4. Edward G. Thibault,ed., The Art and Practices of Military Strategy (Washington,D.C.: National Defense University,1984), p.533. 5. General John R. Galvin, "Flexible Response and Forward Defense," Defense `88, (July/August 1988),p.7 6. Aldridge, p.45 - 47. 7. Ibid p.44. 8. Ibid. p.51. 9. Ibid. p.21. 10. Ibid. 11. LtCol D.A. Wellman, "Marines and Nuclear Capability," Amphibious Warfare Review,6 (Summer,l988), 98. 12. Ibid. 13. Aldridge, p.21. 14. Report of the Secretary of Defense, "Annual Report to Congress, FY 1990," US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1989AP.35. 15. Thibault, p.576. 16. Ibid. 17. Report of the Secretary of Defense, "Annual Report to Congress, FY 1990," US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC., 1989,p.35. 18. Thibault, p .665. 19. Aldridge, p.35. 20. Galvin, p.6. 21. Thibault, p.584. 22. Report of the Secretary of Defense, "Annual Report to Congress FY 1990," US Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. ,1989,p.34. 23. Ibid. 24. General John R. Galvin, "Maintaining Peace in Europe," Defense `87, (November/December,1987)p.l9. 25. Report of the Secretary of Defense, "Annual Report to Congress, FY 1990," US Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. ,1989,p.34. 26. Galvin, "Flexible Response and Forward Defense," p.7. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid. 29. Carl H. Builder,The Case For First Strike Counterforce Capability(Santa Monica: The Rand Corp. ,1978)p.2. 30. Galvin, "Flexible Response and Forward Defense," p.8. 31. Ibid. 32. Thibault, p.657. 33. Builder, p.2. 34. Mary C. Fitzgerald, The Soviet Leadership on Nuclear War (Alexandria,Va.: Center For Naval Analysis, Division of Hudson Institute,1987)p.26. 35. Ibid. p.25. 36. Ibid. p.26. BIBLIOGRAPHY Aldridge, Robert C. First Strike! The Pentagon's Strategy for Nuclear War Boston: South End Press, 1983. Builder, Carl H. The Case for First Strike Counterforce Capability. Santa Monica: The Rand Corp., 1983. Coffey, Thomas M. Iron Eage. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1986 Galvin, John R., "Flexible Response and Forward Defense." Defense '88, July/August 1988, pp.5-11. Galvin, John R. "Maintaining Peace in Europe." Defense '87, November/ December 1987, pp.10-19. Fitzgerald, Mary C. The Soviet Leadership on Nuclear War. Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analysis, Division of the Hudson Institute, 1987. Report of the Secretary of Defense, "Annual Report to Congress, FY 1990." US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1989. Thibault, Edward George, ed. The Art and Practice of Military Strategy. Washington, DC.: National Defense University, 1984. Wellman, D.A. "Marines and Nuclear Capability." Amphibious Warfare Review, Summer, 1988, pp.97-100.



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