Selective Nuclear Options in American and Soviet Strategic Policy

by Benjamin S. Lambeth


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Whatever behavior the Soviets might pursue in a nuclear crisis, the desirability of maintaining a U.S. selective options strategy need not hinge exclusively on the course and outcome of future developments in Soviet nuclear planning. Flexibility is a valuable asset to have whatever the other side does. Possession of selective options neither commits the United States to limited nuclear use in a crisis nor requires us to expect that the Soviets will comply with the norm of restraint. Flexible options can provide U.S. leaders with valuable capabilities (or valuable points of departure for improvising) in the unlikely but consequential event that U.S.-Soviet relations deteriorated into a crisis in which neither the SIOP nor its Soviet equivalent would be usable. Flexible options are more a low-cost investment against a remote possibility than a venture doomed to failure should the Soviets continue to follow a different strategic doctrine.

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