Because of their awesome destructive capability, nuclear weapons require national security policymakers to carefully evaluate how they fit within a country’s national security posture. No consensus exists as to whether the use of such weapons is in fact an option for decision makers to consider or whether the goal is to ensure that they can never be used. The different strategies that have been developed since 1945 for U.S. nuclear strategy—massive retaliation, flexible response, a fatalistic acceptance of the logic of mutually assured destruction, and the search for the most effective ways of stemming nuclear proliferation in unstable or unpredictable actors—all reflect attempts to provide guidance for policymakers as to the strategic purpose of these weapons.
This article by Thomas M. Nichols is a selection from The Oxford Handbook of U.S. National Security, edited by Derek S. Reveron, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, and John A. Cloud.
Featured Image: Air Force file photo of the first launch of a Trident missile on Jan. 18, 1977 at Cape Canaveral, Fla., Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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