A Calculus of First-Strike Stability

(A Criterion for Evaluating Strategic Forces)

by Glenn A. Kent, Randall J. DeValk, David E. Thaler


Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.9 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 FormatList Price Price
Add to Cart Paperback52 pages $23.00 $18.40 20% Web Discount

For analyzing the merits of alternative strategic nuclear force postures, first-strike stability is a more relevant and demanding criterion than deterrence. First-strike stability exists if neither superpower perceives the other as motivated to strike first in a crisis. This Note describes an approach for evaluating the first-strike stability (or instability) of various postures of superpower strategic offensive forces. The study uses a calculus of the cost of striking first compared with the potential cost of waiting and risking an enemy first strike. The analysis suggests that the current postures of U.S. and Soviet strategic offensive forces do not demonstrate any undue degree of first-strike instability. However, merely reducing the level of U.S. and Soviet offensive forces does little to enhance stability and may actually increase first-strike instability because the types and posture of forces deployed have a greater effect on stability than do their overall numbers. To maintain stability, reductions in offensive weapons should be coupled with improved basing modes.

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.

Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.