Fatality Uncertainties in Limited Nuclear War

by Bruce W. Bennett


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Presents counterarguments to the article "Limited Nuclear War," by S. D. Drell and F. von Hippel, [Scientific American], November 1976. The article concludes that any Soviet limited counterforce attack, if strategically effective, would inflict very high fatality levels; and because the USSR is not pondering such attacks, the United States should not inflame the situation by building up flexible counterforce capabilities as recommended by Secretary of Defense Schlesinger in 1974. The report argues that Drell and von Hippel neglect the importance of the assumptions underlying attack scenarios and the wide-ranging effects of uncertainty on fatality calculations. Using RAND's new SNAPPER model for assessing nuclear damage, the report concludes that the USSR could launch potentially effective limited counterforce attacks while causing only a one to three million U.S. fatalities, exactly the range suggested by Schlesinger. It therefore would be unwise to dismiss such attacks from the realm of possibility.

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