Perception and Strategic Warning

by Edmund D. Brunner

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Strategic warning is described as a perception occurring to persons in the nation's top leadership that an opponent may launch a nuclear attack. Because the only opponent now likely to take this action is the USSR, an examination is made of reasons that might impel it to do so. A survey is made of preparatory events in the USSR that would be related to the way in which war might begin. The chain between events observable by our intelligence apparatus and response by U.S. leadership is traced. The processes of evaluation of evidence and leadership decisionmaking are examined and illustrated with historical cases from World War I into the 1970s. Factors influencing this process include the power of fixed ideas, informational failures, deception, value systems of the protagonists, and the dangers inherent in the dynamics of group decisionmaking. An example of successful perception of strategic warning and response (Cuba, 1962) is discussed.

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