U.S. Strategic Force Planning

Restoring the Links Between Strategy and Capabilities

by Kevin N. Lewis


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Since the early 1970s, the nuclear planning community has gradually come to agree that a strategy emphasizing the flexible and discriminate employment of nuclear weapons is probably the best way to make the U.S. deterrent more reliable and credible. However, serious problems continue to undermine U.S. preparations for a strategy of flexible employment. Already tenuous, the link between U.S. nuclear employment planning and force structure planning has been further weakened by strategic funding levels that have not been able to meet the demands that evolving U.S. strategy has placed on the posture. In this paper the author argues for a new planning approach to reconnect force and employment planning that would, without absolute guidance about war aims, enhance deterrence and permit more effective response in the event of nuclear war. This planning approach would: (1) take realistic account of the strategic forces budget; (2) consider the competitive effect of force planning on Soviet actions; (3) be conducted over a long-range horizon; (4) have sufficient agility to keep the politics of strategic forces from excessively distorting the characteristics of specific programs; and (5) use certain "themes" to shape force employment and acquisition decisions.

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