204. Paper Prepared by the Defense Program Review Committee Working Group1



I. Issues for Decision

The DPRC has directed a review of strategic force policy2 in order to provide a basis for more refined, comprehensive, and integrated Presidential guidance which will supplant the NSDM 163 criteria in future planning of strategic forces. A series of interagency studies were integrated and summarized in the Executive Summary.

The many issues that emerged about U.S. strategic nuclear policy objectives, their relative priorities, and how to attain these objectives are so interrelated that most decisions on individual issues should be [Page 900] made within a framework of basic choices regarding overall U.S. strategic nuclear policy. Consequently, the study group developed a set of “General Strategic Alternatives” which deal primarily with strategic offensive forces, concepts for their employment, and command/control. A second set of decisions concerns strategic defense alternatives. A third set relates to our strategic offensive force posture vis-à-vis the PRC. This paper focuses on these issues and their interrelations.

Decision A. General Strategic Alternatives.4 Should U.S. strategic force planning vis-à-vis the USSR be primarily based on:

A well-hedged urban/industrial (U/I) retaliatory capability;
Alternative 1 plus planning and organization changes to provide greater flexibility for employment of U.S. strategic nuclear forces than currently exists;
Alternative 2 plus improvements in command and control hardware, or missile counterforce capability, or both, to provide even greater flexible response capability; or
Improvements in the numbers and qualities of strategic forces designed to achieve outcomes favorable to the United States in any nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union?

Decision B. Strategic Defense Alternatives.5 Should the strategic defensive posture be:

Minimum defense to provide warning and surveillance;
Nationwide defense against small attacks (our current policy in NSDM 16);
Defense of strategic retaliatory forces and the NCA;
Nationwide defense against small attacks and hard-site defense of land-based missiles; or
Heavy defense to enforce favorable war outcomes?

Decision C. China Alternatives. Another important policy issue concerns the U.S. nuclear posture vis-à-vis China. This issue is analyzed [Page 901] in detail in the NSSM 69 study;6 aspects of our nuclear posture in Asia which are directly related to our posture vis-à-vis the USSR are discussed here. Specifically, should our strategic force planning vis-à-vis the PRC provide for improvements in the capability of U.S. missiles to destroy hardened time-urgent targets, if such improvements are not called for by our posture vis-à-vis the USSR?

Other Issues. There are other important strategic programs issues which were not analyzed in this review because (a) they are not broad policy issues and (b) they are either being dealt with through other means or are more properly handled through the normal planning process. These include:

  • —What R&D and procurement programs should be pursued to improve pre-launch survival, penetration, and defense capabilities? A broad policy issue (crisis stability) is discussed below in Section II, that is related to whether we should plan to ensure the continuing high survivability of each element in our current mix of ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers, or whether our planning should consider other alternatives that do not include such a requirement?
  • —What specific command and control improvements, if any, should be made to support the General Strategic Alternatives?
  • —Specifics of U.S. SALT proposals.
  • —Whether new initiatives in the deployment of strategic weapons are necessary at this time in response to continued growth in Soviet strategic forces and, if so, what these initiatives should be. A broad policy issue (diplomatic sufficiency) related to this question is, however, discussed in Section II below.

II. Factors Bearing on Evaluation of Alternatives

Decisions on the above policy issues depend on judgments regarding many factors. Four factors seem particularly important:

  • —Strategic nuclear policy objectives and their relative priorities.
  • —Hedging strategic force capabilities against uncertainties.
  • —Support of U.S. allies.
  • —Views on the strategic balance.

A. Strategic Nuclear Policy Objectives and Their Relative Priorities.

The basic U.S. policy regarding strategic forces “is to deny other countries the ability to impose their will on the United States and its [Page 902] allies under the weight of strategic military superiority.”7 The President has further stated that, while he is committed to keeping U.S. strategic forces strong, he is equally committed to seeking a stable strategic relationship with the Soviet Union through arms limitation negotiations.

NSDM 16 provides that, insofar as attacks on the United States are concerned, we should:

Maintain high confidence that our second strike capability is sufficient to deter an all-out surprise attack on our strategic forces.
Maintain forces to insure that the Soviet Union would have no incentive to strike the United States first in a crisis.
Maintain the capability to deny to the Soviet Union the ability to cause significantly more deaths and industrial damage in the United States in a nuclear war than they themselves would suffer.
Deploy defenses which limit damage from small attacks or accidental launches to a low level.

The members of the interagency study group agree that we have the following specific objectives for U.S. strategic forces, based on NSDM 16 and the President’s first and second Foreign Policy Reports:

  • —Deter strategic nuclear attacks against the United States and its allies;
  • —Prevent coercion of the United States and its allies with threats from nuclear powers;
  • —Contribute to the deterrence of tactical nuclear and conventional attack on vital U.S. security interests.
  • —Maintain strategic stability with the Soviet Union, both in terms of discouraging a first strike during a crisis and in minimizing the incentives for an arms race.
  • —If deterrence fails, limit damage to the United States and its allies to the extent possible. Moreover, support termination of nuclear warfare as quickly as possible, prior to the onset of widespread devastation, on terms that are not unfavorable to the U.S.8

There is, however, disagreement about adding the following objective:

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—Maintain the obvious capability to ensure that the United States would emerge in a position of relative advantage from any level of strategic nuclear warfare.

The first two of these objectives take priority over the others. The remaining objectives may compete or conflict. For example, maintenance of strategic stability may conflict with measures designed to limit damage to the United States and its allies if deterrence fails. Policy judgments are required to strike a balance in the actions we take to achieve competing objectives.

In order to simplify matters, the objectives are grouped, in subsequent discussion of the General Strategic Alternatives, into four categories—deterrence, support of allies, strategic stability, and goals if deterrence fails.

Currently, strategic sufficiency is defined by NSDM 16. But many areas of strategic force planning are not addressed by NSDM 16. Moreover, there have been serious questions of interpretation of some of the original NSDM 16 sufficiency criteria:

  • —There is agreement that the first criterion (second-strike capability) is a necessary element of U.S. strategic policy, but there is no consensus as to what, if any, additional capabilities are essential for deterrence of hostile Soviet actions.9
  • —There is agreement that the second criterion (crisis stability) is an important policy element, but there are differing views as to its planning implications.
  • —With regard to the third criterion, there is agreement that, with prudent planning of offensive force hedges, the U.S. can maintain a capability to deny the Soviets a significant relative advantage in fatalities (in the absence of effective Soviet civil defense measures) and industrial damage. There is some question, however, about the interpretation of the term “significant relative advantage” and about the extent to which this criterion affects the planning of strategic defensive forces.
  • —The fourth criterion (defense against small attacks) may not be consistent with current U.S. SALT positions. The President’s decision leading to these positions indicate a willingness to forego an area ABM defense if necessary to achieve an equitable SALT agreement.

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The fourth NSDM 16 criterion, the Secretary of Defense Policy and Planning Guidance,10 and Administration decisions not to fund programs for improving missile counterforce capabilities all imply that limiting damage from large nuclear attacks is not a current planning goal. But the third NSDM 16 criterion raises ambiguities in this regard.

Decisions on the major policy issues will depend on judgments about the priorities and feasible means to attain our strategic objectives.

There is little general disagreement about what our objectives are; there are wide differences in perceptions about their priorities and about what it takes to support them. The complexity of these questions can be reduced by identifying issues that could result in significant changes in our strategic posture:

  • —Is some absolute level of U/I retaliatory capability a sufficient deterrent of nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies or should deterrence be strengthened by a capability for ensuring relative advantage in war outcomes?
  • —If an absolute level of U/I retaliatory capability is adequate, is greater flexibility for the employment of U.S. strategic offensive forces necessary to meet our objectives?
  • —If so, can adequate flexibility be provided by adding more attack options to U.S. nuclear weapon employment plans? Or is more extensive flexibility needed, with greater demand on survivability of command/control under limited exchanges?
  • —Should flexibility be extended to include substantial improvements in missile counterforce capabilities to support additional attack options or war-fighting goals?

The General Strategic Alternatives are organized to cover these issues.

B. Hedging

A dominant factor in the size, capabilities, and cost of our strategic forces is hedging against future threats to these forces. Maintenance of the strategic force capabilities of any of the General Strategic Alternatives in the face of future uncertainties depends upon four hedging elements:

  • —The degree of conservatism used in estimating future threats and their effects on U.S. capabilities.
  • —Appropriate R&D programs to develop knowledge of new threat technologies and to reduce the leadtime to deploy new countermeasures.
  • —The size and characteristics of various components of U.S. strategic forces.
  • —Appropriate diversity in the mix of strategic offensive systems to compound Soviet first strike problems, to hedge against unexpected degradation of weapon systems, and to hedge against unexpected threats. These complex considerations are regularly addressed in the normal defense planning process.

All the General Strategic Alternatives contain, at a minimum, a well-hedged urban/industrial retaliatory capability, without specifying a particular hedging policy or blend of the above elements. The evaluation of these alternatives does, however, recognize that an adequate hedging policy provides substantial numbers of forces for targeting against military targets as well as against U/I targets.

There are a variety of alternative approaches to diversifying the offensive force mix. The costs of the General Strategic Alternatives shown in Table 1 below11 are given as a function of these force mix categories:

  • —We could maintain a high level of pre-launch survival and penetration capability in each of our current systems, ICBMs, SLBMs, and bomber (triad).
  • —We could keep three systems, but maintain high pre-launch survival and penetration capability in only two components (reduced triad).
  • —We could phase out one force component, maintaining high pre-launch and penetration capability in the remaining two (diad).
  • —We could have three components, but stretch out our modernization programs by, for example, modernizing only one component at a time (mini-triad).

Although a decision on strategic offensive force mix policy is not required at this time, there is a widely held but erroneous view on the current policy. Some assume there is a force planning requirement to maintain an independent retaliatory capability in each force component. Although our forces currently have this characteristic, there is no agency which takes the position that we must maintain an independent retaliatory capability in each component against future threats.

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The current policy is expressed in the President’s Second Annual Review of Foreign Policy. “The mix of forces. For several years we have maintained three types of strategic forces—land-based ICBMs, bombers, and submarine-launched missiles. Each is capable of inflicting a high level of damage in response to a nuclear first strike. Taken together they have an unquestioned capability of inflicting an unacceptable level of damage. This concept takes advantage of the unique characteristics of each delivery system. It provides insurance against surprise enemy technological breakthroughs or unforeseen operational failures, and complicates the task of planning attacks on us. It complicates even more the longer range planning of the levels and composition of the opposing forces. If the effectiveness and survivability of one element were eroded, the Soviet Union could choose to concentrate its resources on eroding the effectiveness and survivability of the others. This would confront us with serious new decisions, and we will therefore continue to review our forces in the light of changing threats and technology to ensure that we have the best possible mix to meet the requirements of sufficiency.”12

A policy issue is the interpretation of the second NSDM 16 criterion on crisis stability. Of particular importance is the significance for crisis stability if Minuteman became very vulnerable to a first strike. This is because our current SALT positions would preclude the major means (hard-site ABM defense and land-mobile ICBMs) of attempting to ensure Minuteman survivability against future Soviet threats.

The term “crisis stability” refers to the degree to which the United States and the Soviets would tend to avoid the use of strategic nuclear weapons in a severe crisis or military conflict. While many factors bear on such incentives, the planning issue focuses on the characteristics of the U.S. posture that might increase or decrease any Soviet incentive to strike first.

  • —All agree that a principal contributor to stability in a crisis is a well-hedged U/I retaliatory capability. With such a U.S. capability, the Soviets could not significantly reduce the damage they would suffer in retaliation or substantially affect the relative balance of U/I damage. This, however, assumes that the Soviets did not evacuate their cities prior to U.S. strikes.
  • —All agree that confidence in control of U.S. strategic forces and acquisition of information on the status of forces and damage in the United States is important.
  • —All agree that some level of flexibility for the employment of strategic forces contributes to stability in a crisis situation by increasing our confidence in handling any situation in a measured, appropriate way.
  • —All agree that rapid, direct communications between governments and agreed procedures for dealing with nuclear accidents are important.
  • —There is wide disagreement on whether a largely vulnerable Minuteman force would be destabilizing in a crisis.

One view is that an excessively vulnerable Minuteman force could be destabilizing in a crisis, even if we had strong bomber and SLBM forces, because the threat to our cities might deter us from using these forces after an attack on Minuteman. At the very least, it is argued, the President’s options for diplomatic and military actions in a crisis would be more constrained if Minuteman were highly vulnerable, since a vulnerable Minuteman could suggest that we intend to launch our ICBMs in a first strike. In this view, Minuteman would have to be either kept survivable or phased out (or possibly reduced to a low level, say 100 or less). Proponents of this view argue as follows:

  • —If the United States allowed Minuteman to become excessively vulnerable (say, 90% or higher attrition from a Soviet first strike), the Soviets would be convinced we intended to use Minuteman primarily for first-strike counterforce attacks.
  • —During an intense crisis, our primary leverage on the Soviet Union is the implied threat of military action. Thus, resolute U.S. actions in a crisis could heighten their fears of a first strike by Minuteman. In such a situation, the Soviets might decide that their only alternative short of general nuclear war would be to launch an attack on Minuteman, seek to forestall retaliation by threatening to attack U.S. cities, and negotiate with the United States.
  • —The likelihood of a strike on Minuteman and the credibility of the Soviet threat to U.S. cities might be increased if they could destroy Minuteman with only part of their ICBM force (possible in the mid-to-late 1970s) or if they provided their ICBM launchers with a rapid reload capability.

Others believe that a vulnerable Minuteman force would not invite a Soviet first strike even in a severe crisis. They argue that our overall retaliatory capabilities would preclude any significant gain by the Soviets in such an attack. They further assert that with appropriate U.S. response options, a Soviet first strike on Minuteman would guarantee some form of U.S. nuclear retaliation, with severe risks to their whole society. Thus, they argue that the Soviets would face a choice between striking first, with near certain retaliation, or accepting the risk of U.S. preemption, but with some probability that the crisis [Page 908] would be resolved without nuclear war. Proponents of this view counter the earlier arguments as follows:

  • —It is clear Minuteman was planned as a survivable force. The fact that in changing times and circumstances it became vulnerable would not signal a dramatic U.S. shift to a first strike policy. Furthermore, the Soviets could not be certain that we would not launch on warning, nullifying their whole attack.
  • —In a crisis, resolute or threatening U.S. actions would heighten Soviet fear of a U.S. first strike whether or not Minuteman is vulnerable. It is most difficult to imagine the Soviets risking 100 million lives and most of their industry for some objective that would test U.S. resolve to act.
  • —An attack on Minuteman would be a large scale attack, with substantial collateral fatalities and political repercussions. Soviet hopes to deter any form of retaliation would be unrealistic.

This crisis stability issue—in particular, the necessity for ensured survival of our ICBMs—has a direct bearing on the variey of acceptable hedging alternatives, how they are evaluated in the normal planning process, and on the decisions made for SALT, including the acceptability of the current U.S. proposals.

It should be noted that the issues of crisis stability and the stability of the long-term strategic balance are not related only to force postures, but also involve political questions, since major asymmetries in vulnerability could invite coercion.

C. Support of Allies

The General Strategic Alternatives reflect various perceptions about the role of strategic weapons in supporting our allies. There are several problems underlying these issues—the nature of our commitments, the objectives to be supported, and maintaining the confidence of allies in this support.

Commitments. This study did not attempt a reexamination of U.S. policy on commitments. It did conclude that existing commitments vary widely in their specificity, in the likelihood of real threats against various allies, in the degree of vital U.S. interests involved, and in the problems of U.S. credibility. Some deliberate ambiguity preserves our range of options for response to a particular situation. However, our allies (e.g., NATO and Japan) depend heavily on the U.S. nuclear shield for their security. Our support also reinforces U.S. efforts to inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Objectives. How to attain our objectives regarding the allies—deterring attacks on or coercion of our allies, and dealing with such attacks if deterrence fails—depends on the relationship of our strategic forces to our theater nuclear forces and conventional forces: [Page 909]

  • —All agree that U.S. strategic forces alone cannot provide a credible deterrent to attacks on our allies (particularly non-nuclear attacks) because of doubts that the United States would risk retaliatory strikes on U.S. cities. The Soviets have had the capability to retaliate directly against the United States for many years. China is expected to have such a capability in the future.
  • —Some believe that strategic forces have little direct utility as an extended deterrent. Apart from posing uncertain risks that an attack on U.S. allies might lead to general war, they believe our support rests on theater capabilities, nuclear and conventional, and that they must be planned independently of our strategic forces. Strategic forces should then be planned on the basis of deterring general war.
  • —Others believe that our strategic forces have significant utility as an extended deterrent. They argue as follows: Strategic forces form part of a continuum of responses at each level of provocation. Our theater nuclear and conventional forces couple and extend our strategic nuclear commitment down to any level of aggression. With appropriate planning, our total force capabilities can demonstrate a clear path of escalation to all-out war, coupling loss at one level to the risk of U.S. escalation to a higher level. Strategic forces, coupled with theater nuclear forces, create substantial uncertainties—risks of seriously underestimating potential U.S. responses. With appropriate attack options the large gaps between levels of conflict, which might tend to decouple them, can be precluded.13

These differences in perception and issues about what measures are necessary are reflected in the General Strategic Alternatives. They also bear on the larger questions of confidence.

Confidence. The confidence of our allies in U.S. commitments is a most important element of our diplomatic and military posture. A decided weakening in allied confidence could have many undesirable effects, including the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the seeking of political accommodation with the USSR. Of immediate concern is the possible erosion of allied confidence in light of the continued buildup of strategic armaments.

  • —Some believe that allied confidence is already starting to erode, and we must take action to restore confidence.
  • —Others argue that there have been problems of confidence for many years, evidenced by emergence of the British and French nuclear [Page 910] forces, multilateral force issues, and the necessity for intensive consultations within the NPG. Recent erosion, if any, is a matter of readjustment to the meaning of the new circumstances, but includes worries over U.S. conventional withdrawals, MBFR, and uncertain effects of détente. Only if such an erosion leads to a concrete perception that our allies were decoupled from the U.S. nuclear shield, would major action be necessary. In this view, we are nowhere near that point; we still have room for lesser confidence measures. Such questions of confidence are related to issues about the strategic balance.
  • —Others believe that U.S. involvement in a strategic nuclear exchange for the “defense” of our NATO allies, involving nearly certain destruction of the United States, is unthinkable. They argue that allied perceptions of this fact cannot be prevented.
  • —Still others argue that it is not clear that procuring new or additional weapon systems (including defenses) will in itself alleviate allied concern about the U.S. nuclear guarantees which, in turn, is related to the broader issue of future U.S. commitments to their security. They believe it is unclear whether any of the General Strategic Alternatives considered in this study will improve allied confidence in the U.S. commitment.

D. The Strategic Balance

One issue, common to all General Strategic Alternatives is the relative balance of U.S. and Soviet strategic forces. Under some alternatives it is possible that we could have numerically inferior forces, even if they fully met our strategic requirements. Thus, there is an issue about the further, explicit requirement for the “diplomatic sufficiency” of our strategic force posture.

  • —Some hold that large visible imbalances in U.S.-Soviet strategic force levels which favor the Soviets, such as their currently projected lead in ICBM and SLBM launchers (about 1-1/2 to 1), could undermine allied confidence in the U.S. will and ability to honor its commitments, and could make the Soviets more inclined to exercise military coercion in theater crises. They argue that such imbalances must either be prevented by SALT or that the United States should deploy more strategic forces.
  • —Others believe that a well-hedged posture designed to support our military objectives precludes any significant Soviet superiority, i.e., any credible form of first strike capability. They believe that excessive imbalances in numbers of launchers (5 to 1) are clearly politically and psychologically unacceptable, but that it is difficult to interpret close ratios (between 1 to 1 and 2 to 1). Many other measures of relative power can affect perceptions—technological quality, numbers of war-heads, megatonnage—as well as numbers of launchers. They believe that there is therefore an adequate basis for educating our allies about [Page 911] our own evaluation of real sufficiency and about the complexities of defining the balance with simple numerical indices.

At issue, then, apart from the alternatives discussed below, is whether or not we need to buy more forces to restore an apparent imbalance in weapons inventories with the Soviets as a political and/or military requirement.

III. General Strategic Alternatives

The major policy elements characterizing the four General Strategic Alternatives are discussed in this section.14 A more detailed discussion of these policy elements is presented in the Executive Summary, pages 65–92.15 The costs of forces to support these General Strategic Alternatives are illustrated in Table 1 on page 21 below.

Following is a State Department Footnote on an Additional Strategic Alternative:16

The State Department representative believes that this paper should provide a broader spectrum of alternative strategies for consideration by decision-makers. In particular, while not advocating this posture, consideration should be given to the pros and cons of a partial damage-limiting strategy as one possible means of achieving a more stable deterrent, and providing options in the event deterrence fails.

The State Department representative believes there are additional options that should be considered in a study of this nature. There is, for example, the option of having a partial damage-limiting strategy which some argue would strengthen deterrence and provide the President with a broader range of options should deterrence fail. Such an option can be derived from the strategic offense and defense alternatives presented in this study. A partial damage-limiting posture in the shorthand of this study would combine strategic offense alternative 3c (counterforce and hard target kill capability) and strategic defense alternative B (a light area defense). However, such a posture should be presented as a distinct alternative rather than a derived one. This would help to fill the gap, noted in several prior staff comments by State, between a well hedged U/I capability and a war fighting posture. It illustrates an alternative concept of deterrence not covered by the other General Strategic Alternatives.

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A partial damage-limiting posture has several purposes. In the view of some, it reinforces deterrence in a manner different in kind from Assured Destruction because it provides a balanced force, which could provide the President broader options in a crisis than Assured Destruction. The capacity to limit damage has value in itself and has never been explicitly rejected as a goal for U.S. strategic forces (e.g., the fourth criteria of NSDM 16 provides for a defense against small attacks). Such a posture also could serve to reinforce nuclear guarantees to allies.

While some see such a posture as destabilizing, others argue that an offense-dominant deterrent force based on Assured Destruction could fuel an offense-offense arms race, lead to vulnerabilities and thus, greater instabilities (political and military), may not effectively serve as an extended deterrent to our allies and could lead to uncontrolled escalation in the event deterrence fails. This posture would reduce the need for extensive hedging of assured destruction capabilities which tend to provide excessive counter-value capabilities. Instead, such a posture would combine elements of offense and defense in order to bring into balance our strategic force posture and employment policies.

Alternative 1. Well-Hedged Urban/Industrial Retaliatory Capability

Policy. This alternative would provide a high confidence second-strike capability against Soviet and Chinese cities and industry. With hedging to maintain this capability with high confidence, we would expect to have additional warheads to use against Soviet and Chinese military targets. Command and control systems would be designed to ensure our ability to execute a large retaliatory strike. A limited degree of flexibility would exist as a by-product of these policies to provide for a small number of pre-planned attack options and a limited capability for selective release of weapons.

Capabilities. The capabilities of forces under this alternative are similar to those of our current strategic program. These forces would have extensive capabilities for the following:

  • —a high confidence retaliatory capability against Soviet U/I complexes and political centers and a separate capability to destroy PRC U/I complexes and political centers without overflying the Soviet Union.
  • —Denial to the Soviet Union of the ability to cause significantly more deaths and industrial damage in the United States in a nuclear war than they themselves would suffer.17
  • —Large, pre-planned attacks against soft Soviet and Chinese military targets.

The number of weapons resulting from our hedging policies would probably also provide some limited capability to destroy hard missile launchers, but programs intended to improve this counterforce capability would not be pursued.

Relation to Objectives

1. Deterrence. Under this alternative we would seek to deter nuclear warfare by the threat of a high level of assured damage to Soviet cities and industry and the threat of extensive destruction of Soviet soft military targets.

This alternative is consistent with the perception held by some that the threat of high absolute levels of U/I damage are sufficient to deter nuclear attack on the United States and that relative levels of U/I and military target damage are unlikely to affect any decision to start a general nuclear war.

It is also consistent with either of the following perceptions concerning deterrence of less than general war: Either strategic weapons have little utility in deterring lesser wars or strategic weapons, together with tactical nuclear weapons and conventional forces, pose an unacceptable risk of escalation to general war so that lesser wars are also deterred.

2. Support of Allies. This alternative would seek to deter attacks on our allies by posing a risk of escalation to general nuclear war through the coupling of our strategic nuclear forces with the forward-deployed nuclear and conventional forces of the United States and its allies. This posture would provide warheads for targeting against soft and some hard military targets in support of our theater forces and those of our allies.

3. Strategic Stability. This alternative is consistent with the views that crisis stability can best be achieved by the threat of U/I retaliation, by avoiding postures that seem to give the United States an effective first strike disarming or damage limiting capability, and by maintaining forces that ensure the Soviets could not gain significant advantage in U/I damage by striking first.

4. Goals if Deterrence Fails. Damage-limiting would be a low priority objective in force planning. Some damage-limiting capability would probably exist as a by-product of our hedging policy to achieve a high confidence U/I retaliatory capability.

If nuclear war occurred, the most important goal under this alternative would be the termination of conflict without the loss of U.S. cities. This goal would be sought by providing the ability to retaliate, under certain SIOP options, against Soviet and Pact military targets while withholding forces to threaten U/I damage. Additional flexibility in use of nuclear weapons would not be sought.

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Key Issues

The following issues have been raised concerning General Strategic Alternative 1:

Is a U/I retaliatory capability a sufficient deterrent of nuclear attack? Some maintain that the ability to inflict a substantial absolute level of damage in retaliation is sufficient to deter. Others argue that it is also necessary that the Soviet Union not perceive a significant advantage in surviving U/I and military assets. Still others assert that, even given the capability to inflict high absolute levels of damage, we need a capability to respond selectively to deter less than all-out nuclear attacks.
Would U.S. responses in a crisis be adequate? Some argue that the present options are sufficient to ensure an adequate response, others hold that more options are necessary.
Is the extension of the U.S. deterrent to our allies credible under this posture? Some maintain that the condition of parity between the United States and the Soviet Union causes our allies to doubt that we would risk our own destruction to defend them. Others assert that the risk of escalation posed to the Soviets by the overall capabilities under this posture is a sufficient deterrent and is credible to U.S. allies. Still others believe that extension of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent to our allies cannot be credible under any posture alternative.
Are U.S. strategic nuclear capabilities adequate if deterrence fails? Supporters of this alternative argue that the ability to withhold urban attacks is the only practical strategic capability which can help terminate a nuclear war before all-out city exchanges. Others argue that the large nuclear strike options of this alternative would make early war termination difficult to achieve and would risk unacceptable damage to the United States. Still others maintain that we must have the capability to terminate nuclear conflict under military conditions advantageous to the United States.

Alternative II. Alternative I Plus a Flexible Response Capability (Emphasis on Planning and Organizational Changes)

Policy. This alternative would supplement the well-hedged U/I capability of Alternative I with changes in planning staffs and organizations to provide a capability for the flexible and limited use of strategic nuclear strikes on a scale much lower than the current SIOP attack options.18 The force levels and characteristics would be the same as in Alternative I (e.g., there would be no improvements in missile counterforce [Page 915] capability). Except for changes in staffs, data bases, and command post displays there would be no improvements in command and control beyond those needed to support a high-confidence U/I retaliatory capability.

Capabilities. In addition to the capabilities inherent under Alternative I, this alternative would provide: (1) options for the limited use of strategic weapons by which the National Command Authorities (NCA) can signal the linkage of local conflict (involving our allies) with the most vital U.S. interests, and (2) a broader range of responses to less than all-out nuclear attacks on the United States.

Relationship to Strategic Objectives

Deterrence. A well-hedged U/I retaliatory capability would remain the cornerstone of the U.S. deterrent, but this alternative would reinforce that deterrent by providing limited responses or counter-threats to less than all-out Soviet nuclear attacks on the United States. In particular, we would seek to deter Soviet attempts to coerce the United States with threats or attacks designed to force a U.S. choice between mutual destruction of cities and submission to Soviet demands.
Support of Allies. Alternative II would be intended to reinforce the credibility, to both the USSR and our allies, of the U.S. extended deterrent by increasing Soviet uncertainty regarding U.S. responses to attacks on our allies and demonstrating the possibility of early introduction of strategic nuclear weapons in a conflict involving our allies.
Strategic Stability. Greater flexibility in the employment of nuclear weapons could contribute to stability in a crisis by reducing the advantages the Soviets might perceive in less than all-out nuclear attacks on the United States and by providing more deliberate, measured procedures and options for responding to Soviet actions and threats in a crisis.
Goals if Deterrence Fails. In the event deterrence failed through accident or miscalculation, this alternative could provide limited strike options which demonstrate restraint combined with resolve to defend our vital interests.

Key Issues

Issues arising out of an assessment of the risks associated with a strategic nuclear flexible response capability are as follows: [Page 916]

Would this flexible response capability weaken the U.S. deterrent? Some argue that the Soviets would interpret U.S. interest in limited nuclear strikes as a signal that we would not go to general nuclear war in order to support our allies and that this would broaden the range of hostile actions open to the Soviets without undue risk of general nuclear war. Others maintain that our well-hedged U/I capability, coupled with an appropriate conventional and theater nuclear force posture in Europe, would still pose grave risks of escalation to the Soviets and that greater flexibility for employment of nuclear weapons would reinforce Soviet perceptions of those risks, making our deterrent more credible.
Would there be increased pressure for use of nuclear weapons in a crisis? Some argue that the existence of a systematically planned and institutionalized capability for limited strategic nuclear strikes would make it more “tempting” to use that capability in a crisis which might otherwise be resolved by less violent means. Others argue that there will always be pressures for use of nuclear weapons in a crisis, that a systematically planned capability for limited nuclear strikes would facilitate dispassionate judgments in a crisis, and that careful development of the institutional structure would reduce the risk of creating a strong pressure group.
Would this flexibility lead to unwanted escalation to general nuclear war? Although this issue relates to the use of limited nuclear options, it is also relevant to the question of whether to have such options, since it bears on their utility in a crisis. Soviet doctrine regarding the use of nuclear weapons is one critical factor in assessing this risk. The evidence is limited and ambiguous. The Soviets have long maintained that a U.S.USSR military conflict, even if it began with conventional forces, would rapidly escalate to general nuclear war. There is, however, no reliable evidence concerning whether or not the Soviets plan for limited nuclear strikes (although they have the capabilities for such attacks). On the other hand, at SALT the Soviet leaders have placed a high premium on being able to communicate with U.S. leaders during a crisis (e.g., accidental launches or provocative attack by a third country), with the putative aim of precluding general nuclear war. Some argue that achievement of parity may increase Soviet interest in limited nuclear exchange options.
Another important factor in assessing the risk of escalation is whether U.S. limited strategic options include plans for first strikes, or are intended only as responses to a Soviet limited nuclear strike. If the United States were the first to use nuclear weapons in limited strikes, there is no sound way, based on currently available intelligence, to predict the Soviet response, which could be to negotiate, to launch limited nuclear strikes, or to escalate to larger nuclear attacks. On the other [Page 917] hand, if the Soviets first executed a limited nuclear strike, there would be a strong presumption that they were willing to limit the conflict.
Some maintain that such first use by the Soviets is unlikely, that the risks of escalation would be too great to permit U.S. first use of limited nuclear strikes and, therefore, that a strategic flexible response capability would either be of limited utility to the United States or could equally well be the trigger of a strategic exchange which could destroy the United States.
Others stress the possibility that the Soviets would launch limited strikes and argue that, to deter such strikes, we must have appropriate responses. They also argue that the risks of escalation through miscalculation would be greater if we found it necessary to use limited nuclear strikes for resolving a crisis, but had not carefully planned them in advance.
Would organization and planning changes provide sufficient flexibility? Some who support more flexibility argue that improvements would be needed in command and control and/or missile counterforce capabilities. Others argue that planning and organizational changes are sufficient. These issues are considered under Alternative III. Still others note that a choice need not be made at this time between Alternatives II and III. Alternative II plus further study or R&D on command/control improvements or counterforce improvements could be implemented in the near term. These improvements could be deployed at some future time if required.

Alternative III. Alternative I Plus Flexible Response Capability (Including Command and Control and/or Counterforce Improvements)

The following discussion highlights the additional considerations which arise if a greater degree of flexibility is desired than provided by Alternative II. This posture would include the well-hedged U/I retaliatory capability of Alternative I and the planning and organizational changes of Alternative II. In order to provide greater flexibility than Alternative II, however, there would be improvements in command and control (Variant 3A), increased missile counterforce capability (Variant 3B), or both (Variant 3C).19 Variants 3B and 3C would result in force changes directed towards a nuclear warfighting capability over a wide spectrum of conflict if large portions of the U.S. missile force were given improved hard-target counterforce capability.

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Variant 3A (C3 Improvements). Improvements would be made in the survivability and responsiveness of strategic command and control systems beyond the capabilities needed for a well-hedged U/I retaliatory posture. These improvements would be made in order to provide for flexible responses throughout a series of limited, but escalating, nuclear exchanges.

Variant 3A could provide the following capabilities:

  • —Greater capability for rapid ad hoc generation of nuclear strikes (including missile retargeting) than provided by the planning and organizational changes of Alternative II.
  • —Protracted crisis management and Presidential control, in a survivable mode, of U.S. forces.
  • —More survivable and near real time collection and processing of information on the results of U.S. and Soviet nuclear strikes, to assist in decisions about diplomatic moves and further U.S. strikes.

Variant 3A implies a greater emphasis on Presidential survivability during a crisis or during limited nuclear exchanges. Moreover, it stresses close and continuous control of strategic forces and a capability for detailed crisis management in a survivable mode.

If the U.S. strategic posture is to place greater emphasis on flexible responses (i.e., either Alternative II or III) then the key issue connected with Variant 3A is whether the utility of the command and control improvements is commensurate with their costs (at least $1–2 billion in FY 73–77 over the costs of Alternative I or II, and quite possibly more). If there were an endorsement of—or at least interest in—the policy inherent in Variant 3A, then a detailed study of the costs and benefits of specific command and control improvements for support of strategic flexible response should be carried out in order to produce refined cost estimates and further issues for decision.

Variant 3B (Counterforce Improvements). Improvements would be made to the hard-target counterforce capability of some or a major portion of U.S. ballistic missiles in order to broaden the range of flexible response options available to the President. The counterforce improvements would not be so extensive as to be capable of significantly limiting damage from large nuclear attacks or to ensure a relative U.S. advantage in surviving military capabilities after a large nuclear conflict. But the President would have options for efficient strikes on ICBM or IR/MRBM silos—that is, for responses in kind to Soviet attacks on Minuteman. There are, of course, other possible responses to an attack on Minuteman than attacking Soviet ICBMs. As an example, we could attack Soviet defenses, submarine bases, and airfields, which would not require U.S. missiles to have a hard-target kill capability.

The key judgment concerning Variant 3B is whether the benefits of flexible response strikes against hardened, time-urgent targets like [Page 919] missile silos outweigh the possible effects this capability might have on the strategic balance.

Some argue against these counterforce improvements on the grounds that the study was unable to identify scenarios in which limited strikes on hard military targets would have clear utility for deterrence or early war termination, that improvements in missile counterforce capability could be destabilizing in a crisis, and that offsetting Soviet weapon deployments could be stimulated. They emphasize the possibility that the Soviets could not distinguish between limited counterforce improvements for flexible responses and improvements which were an initial step towards a disarming strike capability.

Others who argue for counterforce improvements maintain that we may otherwise not be able to deal effectively with all of the situations which we might face (for example, less than all-out attacks on military targets). They maintain that, given the size and diversity of Soviet strategic forces, limited U.S. counterforce improvements would not be destabilizing either in a crisis or in the long-term and, in addition, would signal resolve to extend our nuclear deterrent to cover U.S. allies.

Variant 3C (C3 and Counterforce Improvements). This variant would provide improvements in both command and control and missile counterforce capability. If the counterforce improvements were limited to a small portion of the missile force then this combination would not produce additional issues beyond those identified above. Some hold that if a large portion of the U.S. missile force were given a hard-target kill capability to support war-fighting over a wide spectrum of conflict, this would provide an additional measure of deterrence. Furthermore, they hold that these qualitative improvements would give the President options for discrete attacks which would provide the capability to strike a wide range of targets and still limit collateral fatalities in keeping with his stated policy against indiscriminate mass destruction of enemy civilians. Others believe that counterforce improvements to a large portion of the missile force may upset the strategic balance or affect the kind of SALT limits the Soviets might otherwise agree to accept. Furthermore, they believe that such improvements are not required in order to achieve the President’s stated policy against indiscriminate mass destruction of enemy civilians.

Alternative IV. Relative Advantage to the United States in any Strategic War

Policy. This alternative would provide a nuclear warfighting capability designed to attain for the United States a position of relative advantage after any level of strategic nuclear warfare with the Soviet Union.

[Page 920]

The concept of relative advantage in war outcome is not well-defined; the definition itself constitutes an area of interagency disagreement. Relative advantage in war outcome should include measures of surviving population, industrial resources, and military (nuclear and conventional) capability. But, in a general nuclear war, deaths and industrial damage are likely to be very high on both sides, leaving residual military capability as the major determinant of relative advantage.

U.S. strategic forces would be planned to provide a favorable balance of surviving population, industry and military capability. As a by-product, these forces would have a well-hedged U/I retaliatory capability. Extensive improvements in missile hard-target counterforce capability and protracted nuclear warfighting capability would characterize this posture. Command and control systems would be designed to have greater survivability, damage assessment capability, and responsiveness for battle management throughout a spectrum of large and small nuclear exchanges than in the other alternatives. Balanced strategic defenses and vigorous R&D efforts on damage limiting systems would be necessary characteristics of the posture.

Capabilities. In addition to the capabilities described in the previous alternatives, our strategic forces would be planned for an extensive capability for attacking locatable soft and hard Soviet and Chinese military targets, including hard ICBM and IR/MRBM sites.

However, without major advances in technology, there would be a limited capability to destroy Soviet mobile forces such as ballistic missile submarines at sea and land-mobile missiles.

Relationship to Objectives

Deterrence. This alternative is consistent with the view that our ability to inflict a high absolute level of damage in retaliation is important, but is not a sufficient deterrent. In this view, a credible deterrent also requires a clear capability to ensure that any nuclear war would result in a relative outcome favorable to the United States.
Support of Allies. This alternative is consistent with the view that strategic nuclear forces that provide for relative U.S. advantage in war outcomes are the most certain deterrent to Soviet initiation of attacks on U.S. allies.
Strategic Balance. This alternative is consistent with the view that in a crisis the Soviets would have no incentive to strike first, if a preemptive strike against the United States would clearly leave them in an unfavorable relative military position.
Goals if Deterrence Fails. This alternative is consistent with the views that, if deterrence fails, the United States must be able to emerge from the conflict in a position of relative advantage over the Soviet Union and that limiting damage to the United States and its allies is an essential factor in achieving this relative advantage.
[Page 921]

In this view, U.S. war termination efforts would be effective only if we were in a position of relative advantage after any level of nuclear exchange. Otherwise, the USSR would be in a position to dictate terms of termination or to threaten escalation.

Key Issues

Should we seek relative advantage in war outcomes rather than absolute level of damage? Opponents of this alternative argue that at high absolute levels of damage, relative damage is no longer a factor in any political decision to start a war. They assert that efforts to build forces to achieve any significant relative advantage in surviving military resources are infeasible. They further argue that these efforts would cause the Soviets to take counter-actions that would prevent us from achieving this goal and could leave us worse off.
Supporters of this policy maintain that relative post-war position is an important factor in deterrence and is essential if deterrence fails; that Soviet strategic programs would not necessarily be reactions to U.S. programs; and that our past and current emphasis on a U/I retaliatory capability has precluded imaginative investigation of the feasibility of such a policy.
Could this alternative be consistent with SALT? If SALT constrains offensive forces to current levels and limits ABM defenses to low levels, it is doubtful that a posture ensuring a favorable relative balance can be achieved. The Soviet Union will undoubtedly not agree to a SALT agreement that provided the U.S. with a clear capability to achieve a relative advantage in a nuclear conflict with the USSR.

Some assert that certain actions (e.g., improve missile hard target counterforce capabilities and our strategic ASW capabilities) could be taken to improve our relative position that would be permitted under the SALT agreement.

Others argue that a SAL agreement which limits ABM defenses to low levels would effectively preclude achievement of a relative advantage posture for the United States or the USSR.


Table 1 shows the cost of past and current U.S. strategic programs (as represented by the FYDP) and the FY 73–77 costs of the General Strategic Alternatives. These latter are displayed as a function of the strategic offensive force mix.

IV. Strategic Defense Policy Alternatives

Except in the case of General Strategic Alternative IV (Favorable Relative War Outcomes), the choice of a strategic defense policy alternative depends primarily on factors distinct from the choice of [Page 922] General Strategic Alternative. These factors include our hedging policies, SALT outcomes, and our posture towards the PRC. General Strategic Alternative IV would require strong defenses (Level E below).

Five alternative defense levels, including ABM defense, air defense, strategic ASW, and civil defense, are summarized below. Table 2 shows their costs.20 Table 3 relates the defense levels to the General Strategic Alternatives and to the China options.21

There is some ambiguity in the current U.S. strategic defense policy. There are Presidential statements of record supporting an area defense system to protect the population against light attacks. There are also the Presidential decisions in SALT indicating a willingness to forego area ABM defenses as part of an equitable SAL agreement.

Defense levels C, D and E all include hard-site defense of Minuteman; Levels B, C, D and E also imply active defense of bomber bases. If one of these alternatives is chosen, the decision is tantamount to a hedging policy aimed at maintaining an independent retaliatory capability in those strategic force components protected by active defense.

Level A. Minimum Defense to Provide Warning and Surveillance

This level would provide defensive forces sufficient for surveillance and warning of attacks on the United States. It could include the following elements:

  • —Two Safeguard ABM sites and associated radars to provide a protected surveillance system for warning and attack assessment against ballistic missiles. These sites would also protect some Minuteman launchers and bomber bases against small missile attacks. This defense level is also compatible with zero level ABM or defense of the NCA, since we have no other means of supporting these warning and surveillance functions.
  • —Air defenses sufficient to provide air space surveillance and restriction of unauthorized overflight of U.S. air space.
  • —Use of general purpose ASW forces (including SOSUS) to maintain surveillance of Soviet and Chinese submarine deployments.
  • —Civil defense emphasizing population warning.

Level B. Defense Against Small Attacks

Level B would provide balanced defenses designed to limit damage to U.S. cities and military forces from small (deliberate or unauthorized) attacks. Against large attacks it also would secure additional [Page 923] time over that provided by Level A for safe escape of alert bombers and tankers and for relocation of the NCA to a survivable command center. The following forces could be included:

  • —Twelve Safeguard ABM sites, including a light area defense.
  • —Air defenses to provide protection against small bomber attacks by the USSR or third countries.
  • —Augmentation of general purpose ASW forces to locate and, if necessary, destroy a small Chinese ballistic missile submarine force (2–4 submarines).
  • —Civil defense as in Level A or perhaps increased to provide more fallout protection and evacuation plans for use in a crisis.

Level C. Defense of Strategic Retaliatory Forces and the NCA

Level C would provide balanced defenses of strategic retaliatory forces and the NCA, including a hard-site ABM defense of Minuteman and perhaps active defense of bomber bases. There would be no effort to defend U.S. cities, except insofar as they receive protection from defenses of the strategic retaliatory forces and the NCA.

There is an issue concerning the effect of hard-site defense deployment on the long-term strategic balance. Some believe extensive deployment of hard-site defense would raise Soviet fears that this defense would be a basis for ABM defense of U.S. cities, would cause further proliferation of Soviet strategic weapons, and would in turn result in deployment of more U.S. hard-site defenses. Others note that deployment of hard-site defense would not protect U.S. cities and would indicate only an effort to preserve the U.S. land-based missile deterrent; they argue that such a deployment need not stimulate proliferation of Soviet weapons if the USSR is sincere about leveling off strategic armaments.

Level D. Defense Against Small Attacks Plus Hard-Site Defense of Minuteman

Level D would add to the defenses of Level B a hard-site ABM defense of Minuteman in order to provide defense of population against small attacks and defense of retaliatory forces against large and small attacks.

Level E. Defenses to Ensure Favorable War Outcomes

In order to ensure that the United States has a favorable balance of surviving military resources after any level of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, extensive defenses of both strategic and general purpose forces would be needed. Moreover, even though defenses could not limit U/I damage from large attacks to a low level, they could, inconjunction with U.S. strategic offensive forces, contribute [Page 924] to achieving a favorable balance of surviving population and industry as well as military assets.

The size and cost of strategic defenses to enforce favorable war outcomes are difficult to project since they would depend on the future Soviet threat (including any measures the Soviets might take to offset a buildup in U.S. strategic defenses), as well as on the precise interpretation of the term “favorable outcomes”. Defense Level E could, for example, include the following defensive forces: 16 ABM sites using Safeguard-type components, hard-site ABM defense of Minuteman, sea-based ABMs for mid-course intercept, and augmentation of the current air defenses with improved manned interceptors, OTH–B, SAM–D and AWACS.

V. China

The emerging Chinese nuclear weapons capability raises a number of questions beyond those which arise from considering the U.S. strategic force posture vis-à-vis the USSR. These include the following:

  • —Should we deploy an ABM defense of CONUS against PRC attacks or other similar small attacks?
  • —What range of hostile PRC actions can be deterred by U.S. strategic forces and what U.S. force characteristics and deployments are needed for deterring these hostile actions?
  • —What changes, if any, should be made in our strategic forces to reduce the risk that, during a U.S.-Soviet crisis, a PRC attack could provoke nuclear war?
  • —How would alternative U.S. force postures and deployments in Asia affect the perceptions of our NATO allies regarding U.S. support with nuclear weapons? Similarly, how does our posture in Europe affect the perceptions of our Asian allies regarding U.S. support with nuclear weapons?
  • —How would alternative U.S. force postures and deployments in Asia affect achievement of our policy goals regarding Japan?
  • —How would alternative U.S. strategic force postures toward China affect the U.S.-Soviet strategic relationship?

These issues have been analyzed in varying degrees of depth in the NSSM 69 study and in analyses conducted in support of the study of U.S. strategic objectives and force postures. These analyses suggest there are two major policy issues regarding the U.S. strategic force posture towards the PRC which are ready for decision now.

The first is whether we should deploy an ABM defense of U.S. cities against Chinese attacks. The President’s decision leading to the current SALT position indicates a willingness to forego such an ABM defense if necessary to achieve an equitable SAL agreement.

[Page 925]

The second issue is whether we should take actions designed to maintain throughout the 1970s a capability to deny (or limit to a low level) damage from PRC nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies. These actions would be intended to maintain a disarming strike capability against the PRC. A complete analysis of this question must also consider issues about the U.S. conventional and tactical nuclear force posture in Asia. These are discussed in detail in the NSSM 69 study (U.S. Strategy and Forces in Asia). This section focuses on the disarming strike issue relative to overall U.S. strategic objectives and postures. Decisions on our strategic force posture vis-à-vis the PRC should be made after considering both the NSSM 69 study and the issues set forth here.

There are two broad strategic nuclear options vis-à-vis China which differ in regard to a disarming strike capability.

Option A. U/I Retaliatory Capability Plus Limited Counterforce Capability

This option would provide those capabilities against China which result from a posture designed primarily for a well-hedged U/I retaliatory capability against the USSR. There would be no improvements in missile counterforce or ASW capabilities for the purpose of limiting or denying damage from PRC attacks on the United States or its allies.

We would have the capability for destruction of 70% of Chinese industry, 70% of the urban population (about 60 million people or 7% of the total population), most soft military targets, and most hardened, non-time-urgent military targets. Although we currently have a disarming strike capability against known Chinese nuclear threats, this would be seriously eroded under Option A as the Chinese increase the number and survivability of their nuclear forces or develop a launch-on-warning capability. We expect the PRC to improve the survivability of their nuclear forces in the future by deploying missiles in silos and in nuclear-powered submarines. They may even now be deploying MRBMs in a concealed mode.

The key issue relative to this option is whether the threatened destruction of PRC cities and soft military targets, in conjunction with U.S. tactical nuclear forces and U.S. and allied conventional forces, would be sufficient to deter PRC attacks on the United States (when they acquire such a capability), its bases overseas, and its allies. Evaluation of this issue depends in part on issues concerning our tactical nuclear and conventional force posture in Asia (see the NSSM 69 study); the following would be implied by Option A.

  • —For deterrence of PRC conventional attacks on our allies, we would depend primarily on either (a) a combination of U.S. and allied conventional forces or (b) threat of battlefield use of tactical nuclear weapons. Without a disarming strike capability the latter carries greater [Page 926] risk that the Chinese would escalate to higher levels of nuclear exchanges than does the former.
  • —For deterrence of PRC nuclear attacks on our allies, we would depend on U.S. theater nuclear weapons in conjunction with the threat of strategic nuclear attacks on PRC cities and soft military targets.

Option B. U/I Retaliatory Capability Plus Enhanced Counterforce Capability Designed for Damage Denial

This option would add to Option A an improved missile counter-force capability (probably the Poseidon accuracy and yield would be improved and Poseidon missiles deployed in the Pacific) and a strategic ASW capability against Chinese ballistic missile submarines in order to extend the time during which we could threaten China with a disarming strike.

There are two major uses for a U.S. disarming strike capability:

  • —To contribute (in concert with tactical nuclear weapons) to deterrence of Chinese conventional attack on our allies and to reduce the credibility of Chinese nuclear threats to our allies.
  • —To limit damage to the United States, its overseas bases, and its allies from PRC nuclear attacks. In particular, if the United States made use of tactical nuclear weapons in the battlefield to support U.S. or allied troops fighting PRC forces, a disarming strike might be executed in an attempt to prevent or limit Chinese nuclear responses.

Key Issues. Evaluation of Option B has identified the following issues.

  • Would the above missile counterforce improvements significantly affect the U.S.-Soviet relationship?

Some assert that they would, resulting in further proliferation of Soviet strategic weapons and to complications in SALT and other U.S.-Soviet diplomatic efforts. They believe that, if improved guidance and larger yield warheads were in production, the Soviets would have to assume they were or would be deployed in all Poseidon missiles, not just those in the Pacific.

Others maintain that, if Poseidon with improved counterforce capabilities were deployed only in the Pacific, the Soviets would be able to accurately monitor the deployment through various sources (e.g., logistics indicators and procurement quantities) and thus would not have grounds for viewing a disarming strike capability against China as a major threat to the USSR. Only about 25% of Soviet ICBM and IR/MRBM launchers could be reached by Poseidon from the Pacific.

Still others assert that Soviet proliferation of weapons and diplomatic positions are determined by factors other than the capabilities of U.S. weapons and that the possible impact on the U.S.-Soviet relationship [Page 927] should not be a consideration in evaluating the disarming strike issue.

Other key issues bearing on a decision regarding a disarming strike are discussed in the NSSM 69 study. These include (1) the technical feasibility of maintaining a disarming strike capability against the PRC throughout the 1970s, (2) the political inhibitions against using a disarming strike, and (3) the possible political benefits of even an imperfect disarming strike capability.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0095, 334, DPRC. Top Secret. There is no drafting information on the paper, but it was apparently prepared by the DPRC Working Group. Odeen sent the paper on January 11 to DPRC Working Group members, including Spiers; Clarke; Tucker; Dam; Stein; Lee; Lawrence S. Eagleburger of the Department of State; and Major General John H. Elder, Jr., Deputy Director, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate, JCS. The paper summarized a lengthier study, entitled “U.S. Strategic Objectives and Force Posture” and completed by the DPRC Working Group on January 3. That study included a 108–page Executive Summary. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–105, DPRC Meeting, Strategic Objectives Posture, 6/27/72)
  2. See Document 182.
  3. Document 39.
  4. The State Department representative believes that this paper should provide a broader spectrum of alternative strategies for consideration by decision-makers. In particular, consideration should be given to the pros and cons of a partial damage-limiting strategy as one possible means of achieving a more stable deterrent, and providing options in the event deterrence fails. See p. 12. [Footnote in the original. The State Department text of an additional strategic alternative is in Section III below.]
  5. The State Department representative does not believe the strategic defense alternatives are adequately related to the objectives which are stated on pages 3–4 or to the strategic offensive alternatives. This results from separating the offense and defense alternatives, rather than integrating them into a single set of strategic alternatives. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. See Document 181 and footnote 7 thereto.
  7. “United States Foreign Policy for the 1970s,” A Report by President Richard Nixon to the Congress, February 18, 1970, page 92. [Footnote in the original. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 115–190.]
  8. While not a matter of public policy, the study group agreed that early war termination is an objective. [Footnote in the original.]
  9. The JCS representative believes that a credible and realistic deterrent posture requires U.S. strategic forces which have a warfighting capability such that they can respond selectively, in concert with other forces, to the full range of nuclear confrontation and conflict and contribute to U.S. capabilities across the warfare spectrum to terminate hostilities under conditions advantageous to the United States. Furthermore, strategic forces must be flexible and sufficient in their combined capability to provide the President with alternatives appropriate to the level and nature of the provocation and make credible the U.S. commitment to employ its forces as may be necessary for the successful defense of NATO and other allied territories. [Footnote in the original.]
  10. On November 13, 1971, Laird sent Kissinger the draft Defense Policy and Force Planning Guidance for FY 74–78, a 36–page paper that included two sections: Defense Policy Guidance and Interim Force Planning Guidance for the FY 74–FY 78 Five Year Defense Program. No reference to improving missile counterforce capabilities was found in the guidance. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 230, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. XVI)
  11. Attached but not printed is Table 1, a page-length chart that compares the costs of past and current U.S. strategic programs and the anticipated costs of alternative strategic offensive postures and mixes.
  12. “United States Foreign Policy for the 1970s,” A Report by President Richard Nixon to the Congress (February 25, 1971), pp. 133–134. [Footnote in the original. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 219–345.]
  13. The JCS representative believes that our capabilities for support of allies should not be incredible and that a counterforce capability to support our commitments reinforces credibility. [Footnote in the original.]
  14. See State Department footnote on p. 12. [Footnote in the original.]
  15. Pages 65–92 of the Executive Summary discusses the four general strategic alternatives in detail.
  16. According to a typed notation on the original, this text was revised on January 14. See footnote 4 above.
  17. The JCS representative notes that the Soviets’ capability for evacuation of civil population from urban areas could change the relative balance of fatalities. [Footnote in the original.]
  18. The SIOP now consists of five attack options, which have provisions for withholding strikes against China and the Far Eastern and East European communist nations and against government controls in Moscow or Peking. The smallest attack option, however, involves about 2500 nuclear warheads launched against Soviet nuclear threat targets. It is possible, without executing any SIOP attack option, to employ selective nuclear strikes using theater or strategic weapons or to execute pre-planned nuclear attacks against China. [Footnote in the original.]
  19. In this regard, the President in his Second Annual Review of U.S. Foreign Policy (February 25, 1971) stated that he “must not be … limited to the indiscriminate mass destruction of enemy civilians as the sole possible response to challenges.” (p. 131) He also stated that “it would be inconsistent with the political meaning of sufficiency to base our force planning on some finite—and theoretical—capacity to inflict casualties presumed to be unacceptable to the other side.” (p. 131) [Footnote in the original.]
  20. Table 2, which is attached but not printed, indicates that the current U.S. strategic defense program cost $17 billion. Estimated costs for alternative programs were as follows: Level A, $6 billion; Level B, $16 billion; Level C, $16 billion; Level D, $20 billion; and Level E, $25 billion.
  21. Table 3 is attached but not printed.