Nuclear winter: implications for U.S. and Soviet nuclear strategy

by Philip J. Romero

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This paper discusses implications of the findings of the TTAPS team, composed of Carl Sagan and his colleagues, on the atmospheric consequences of nuclear war, "nuclear winter." Without assessing the scientific validity of the TTAPS study, it considers the directions in which nuclear strategy might evolve if the prospects of nuclear winter were taken seriously by national command authorities. The author's premise is that nuclear winter will constrain but may not radically change strategic planning, and adaptations will evolve slowly. The author sees two immediate effects of the threat of nuclear winter: elimination of direct attacks on cities as a mission for reserve forces, and great reductions in the scale of each phase of the military campaign, extending the length of a potential war. In the mid-term, it should be possible to rebase forces to take advantage of nuclear winter phenomenology and design measures to counter the opponent's rebasing strategy. In the long term, development of low-yield earth-penetrating warheads could make it possible to wage war without inducing nuclear winter. Wars would likely be prolonged because of difficulties locating worthwhile targets. The author's final conclusion is that many of the potential changes in strategy and targeting are the consequences of ongoing technological evolutions that predate the TTAPS study. Nuclear winter may accelerate extant trends, but may not necessarily create new ones.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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