Assessing the Capabilities of Strategic Nuclear Forces

The Limits of Current Methods

by Bruce W. Bennett


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The purpose of this Note is to assess the nature and validity of the various procedures used in assessing strategic forces capabilities. Problems of assessment and the limitations of procedures are illuminated and, in some cases, more appropriate measures are illustrated. The review also suggests the complexity involved in making such assessments and the difficulties of arriving at specific conclusions about force capabilities. The following topics are addressed: bases for evaluating strategic forces; estimating countermilitary capabilities; estimating countervalue capabilities; aggregate measures; and assessing strategic force capabilities in off-design scenarios. The final section presents a sample analysis of Soviet capabilities in the mid-1980s and considers some of the difficulties of trying to apply the methodologies described earlier in the report.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Note series. The note was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1979 to 1993 that reported other outputs of sponsored research for general distribution.

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