Section 1062 of the National Defense Authorization Act for
Fiscal Year 2008 created a congressionally appointed commission to
review the strategic posture of the United States. The Congressional
Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States is charged
with assessing the entire strategic posture of the U.S., including
offensive and defensive forces and conventional and nuclear
forces. It is chaired by former Secretary of Defense William
Perry and co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense and Secretary
of Energy James Schlesinger. The commission's initial report is due
later this year.
The commission's review comes at a perilous time for U.S.
strategic forces. The U.S. nuclear arsenal and stockpile have been
atrophying since the end of the Cold War. Strategic defenses, which
were all but abandoned during the Cold War, continue to lag
behind the threat resulting from the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction (WMDs) and their delivery systems. Congress
has been reluctant to pursue conventional strategic strike
programs, which are also referred to as prompt global strike
However, the commission's most pressing problem is adapting the
U.S. strategic posture to maintaining national security and
stability in the multipolar world that has replaced what
commentator Charles Krauthammer has called the "unipolar
moment" that immediately followed the end of the Cold War. This
multipolar world has resulted from the post-Cold War proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons
and related delivery systems.
In this multipolar environment, the commission should recommend
to Congress that the U.S. adopt a damage limitation strategy to
replace the retaliatory deterrence strategy that dominated U.S.
policy during the Cold War. A damage limitation strategy would seek
to protect the peoples, territories, institutions, and
infrastructure of the United States and its allies against attacks
by defeating such attacks and, barring the outright defeat of
such attacks, limiting their attendant damage to the greatest
U.S. Strategic Posture After World War II
It is important that the Strategic Posture Commission
remind Congress that the alternative postures available to the
U.S. today were examined by the U.S. after World War II. At that
time, the U.S. grappled with the problem of adjusting its security
policy at the dawn of the nuclear age. Over time, the U.S. explored
options that were derived from three strategies: nuclear
disarmament under international control, damage limitation
strategy, and retaliation-based deterrence strategy in a
balance-of-terror relationship with the Soviet Union.
Initially, the U.S. explored the options for disarmament
and international control of nuclear technology. The most
prominent proposal was the Baruch Plan, named after Bernard Baruch,
U.S. representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy
Commission, who presented this U.S. disarmament plan to the
commission on June 14, 1946. The Baruch Plan proposed putting all atomic
energy activities under the control of an International Atomic
Development Authority. The plan would have required the
renunciation of atomic bombs and would have established a system
for punishing violators. It envisioned ending the manufacture of
atomic bombs, disposing of existing bombs, and limiting possession
of the technological knowledge needed to produce bombs to the
The Soviet Union rejected the Baruch Plan, and the U.S. turned
to exploring plans for maintaining its nuclear forces as the
foundation of its strategic posture, along with less ambitious
diplomatic options for limiting nuclear arsenals, specifically arms
control and nonproliferation. In this context, two subsequent
In the early 1960s, strategist Herman Kahn proposed that
the U.S. adopt a damage limitation strategy to deter a
possible Soviet attack on the United States and its allies. Kahn
defined deterrence broadly to encompass both the goal of damage
limitation and the defensive measures necessary to achieve
that goal, along with nuclear forces. He summarized this strategy
I agree with our current national policy that the primary
objective of our military forces is to deter war. However, I feel
that there is a second but still very important objective: to
protect life and property if a war breaks out.
At roughly the same time, economist and game theorist Thomas
Schelling proposed that deterrence be defined much more narrowly.
He argued that the goal of damage limitation and the accompanying
protective measures were at odds with deterrence. Schelling
asserted that deterrence meant threatening to retaliate for an
attack by targeting population centers. Specifically, he
Thus, schemes to avert surprise attack have as their most
immediate objective the safety of weapons rather than the safety of
people. Surprise-attack schemes, in contrast to other
types of disarmament proposals, are based on deterrence as
the fundamental protection against attack. They seek to perfect and
to stabilize mutual deterrence--to enhance the integrity of
particular weapon systems. And it is precisely the weapons most
destructive of people that an anti-surprise-attack scheme seeks to
preserve--the weapons whose mission is to punish rather than to
fight, to hurt the enemy afterwards, not to disarm him beforehand.
A weapon that can hurt only people, and cannot possibly
damage the other side's striking force, is profoundly
defensive: it provides its possessor no incentive to strike
Schelling's retaliation-based deterrence strategy, which
the Administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
fashioned into a policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD),
eschewed defenses and relied on survivable offensive strategic
nuclear forces to provide for U.S. security. In fact, Schelling's
strategy asserted that strategic defenses would be destabilizing by
undermining the capacity of the retaliatory force, at least in the
context of the Soviet threat and its accompanying bipolar
international political structure. It explicitly argued in
favor of mutual vulnerability for the populations and industrial
capacities of the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
During the remainder of the Cold War, debate between these two
schools of thought continued. On balance, however, Schelling's
strategy of retaliation-based deterrence proved more popular
and was a more powerful driver of the U.S. strategic force
Both Kahn's damage limitation strategy and Schelling's
retaliation-based deterrence strategy were designed to prevent
nuclear war in the bipolar structure of the Cold War. Neither was
designed to meet the security needs of the U.S. and its allies in
today's multipolar world. While Schelling's strategy may have
proved more popular during the Cold War, the Strategic Posture
Commission should find that a variant of Kahn's strategy is better
suited to meeting U.S. and allied security needs in a
multipolar world marked by the proliferation of nuclear
weapons and delivery systems.
The Three Schools of Thought
An engaged public debate on the proper U.S. strategic posture
for the emerging multipolar world has yet to take place. The
Strategic Posture Commission is designed to fill this
intellectual vacuum. The three schools of thought that dominated
the debate over the proper U.S. strategic posture after World War
II and at the onset of the Cold War are reemerging in the context
of today's multipolar world. While these schools represent distinct
alternative approaches--nuclear disarmament,
multilateralized retaliation-based deterrence, and damage
limitation strategy--particular policymakers may attempt to draw on
certain aspects of each, despite the contradictions inherent in
Nuclear Disarmament. The most prominent adherents of the
nuclear disarmament school are former Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger, former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), former Secretary of
Defense William Perry, and former Secretary of State George Shultz.
They first wrote in favor of nuclear disarmament in a Wall
Street Journal op-ed on January 4, 2007. They reiterated
their support for this option in a second op-ed on January 15,
The call for nuclear disarmament is not new. In fact, Kahn's and
Schelling's proposals are based on the conclusion that by the
1960s, disarmament was not possible. Today, the positive
contribution of this proposition is its recognition that the Cold
War strategy of a balance of terror cannot work in the current
environment. Regrettably, the myriad dangers of this
proposition far outweigh this single contribution.
While the difference between the disarmament proposals of the
1940s and those that are being advanced today are significant, they
share an important shortcoming: It is not apparent that disarmament
can be achieved. In this sense, the nuclear disarmament proposition
is more a sentiment than a strategy.
An examination of the ramifications of any attempt to turn the
nuclear disarmament sentiment into a coherent strategy reveals the
weakness of the proposition. While Kissinger, Nunn, Perry, and
Shultz couch their proposal in the language of comprehensive
global nuclear disarmament, the reality is that no U.S.
Administration has the power to achieve this outcome. In the 1940s,
the Soviet Union's opposition doomed the Baruch Plan. Today, as in
the 1940s, the U.S. can control only whether or not the U.S. itself
pursues nuclear disarmament. Despite their internationalist
rhetoric, these four prominent former officials are really talking
about unilateral U.S. nuclear disarmament.
The unilateral nature of this proposition, as supported by
the broader disarmament movement, is revealed by the proposed
interim steps. These steps include continuing the unilateral
moratorium on explosive nuclear testing, de-alerting deployed U.S.
strategic nuclear weapons, withdrawing U.S. tactical nuclear
weapons deployed abroad, and unilaterally altering existing
operational plans for nuclear weapons. Even worse, these interim
proposals come at a time that the U.S. nuclear force is
atrophying. If this atrophy continues, the U.S. nuclear
force will no longer be able to contribute materially to
meeting U.S. security needs.
Clearly, the broader disarmament movement welcomes this
marginalization of the U.S. nuclear force. The problem is
that they are betting the physical survival of the U.S. on nothing
more than the hope that other nuclear-armed states and any states
or nonstate actors that join the nuclear club will follow suit by
disarming. This gamble involves the highest possible stakes and has
an exceedingly low likelihood of success.
This proposition based on nuclear disarmament treats other
aspects of the overall U.S. strategic posture--specifically,
conventional strike systems and defenses--as derivative. The two
op-eds by Kissinger et al. do not speak to these issues
in great detail. Nevertheless, implementing a nuclear
disarmament strategy would have negative implications for both
U.S. conventional superiority and U.S. defensive options.
U.S. conventional superiority is inconsistent with the
proposition of global nuclear disarmament because other
nuclear-armed states will insist on retaining nuclear weapons to
offset U.S. conventional advantages as long as these
advantages persist. Thus, the U.S. could not achieve global
nuclear disarmament without curtailing its conventional systems. In
essence, a U.S. policy that sought global nuclear disarmament would
require the U.S. to jettison its conventional advantages
A greater U.S. reliance on defenses is also incompatible
with a nuclear disarmament policy, despite contrary assertions by
some proponents of nuclear disarmament. This incompatibility,
unlike with conventional capabilities, is a matter of
perception, not logic. For a drive toward global nuclear
disarmament to become a strategy, it would need to put an
extraordinary amount of faith and credit in the disarmament
process. Most disarmament advocates, both here and abroad, would
inevitably see U.S. pursuit of defensive capabilities as a
lack of faith in that process. Political forces would pay as much
attention to preserving the integrity of the disarmament
process as they paid to the ultimate outcome. Thus, if the
U.S. pursued effective defensive capabilities at any point along
the way, it would be charged with undermining the disarmament
Multilateralized Deterrence or Balance of Terror.
The multilateralized deterrence school emerged to challenge the
proponents of disarmament. Its most prominent adherents are former
Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and former Director of
Central Intelligence John Deutsch. They have noted that:
[T]he goal, even the aspirational goal, of eliminating all
nuclear weapons is counterproductive. It will not advance
substantive progress on nonproliferation; and it risks
compromising the value that nuclear weapons continue to
contribute, through deterrence, to U.S. security and international
To this school, the essentials of the deterrence,
balance-of-terror dynamic of the Cold War remain pertinent in the
multipolar world. As Center for Strategic and International Studies
Senior Adviser Clark A. Murdock recently stated:
Although the risks of deterrence failure increase as the number
and types of nuclear powers increase, it seems to be the case that,
to date, possession of nuclear weapons has made the
possessor, and its adversaries, much more cautious about embarking
on courses of action that could escalate to nuclear use.
Indeed, according to an outside report, no less an authority on
the utility of retaliation-based nuclear deterrence than Schelling
himself has affirmed the continuing applicability of the principle
in the multipolar world.
The strength of this school is that it clearly sees the
extraordinary risks of attempting to execute a strategy based on
nuclear disarmament and understands that attaining this goal
is exceedingly unlikely. Further, this school is appropriately
concerned about the negative security implications of the U.S.
continuing on its current path of nuclear weapons atrophy.
The weakness of this school is that it is overly optimistic
about the resiliency of the Cold War nuclear stability dynamic in
today's multipolar world. It also underestimates the potential
contributions of both strategic defenses and strategic
conventional strike capabilities to security and stability.
Regarding defenses, extending Schelling's Cold War strategy to
today's multipolar world would logically mean organizing the U.S.
strategic posture around targeting civilian and industrial areas
with nuclear weapons and, as during the Cold War, would assume that
strategic defenses are destabilizing because they risk
undermining the caution that accompanies the circumstance of
vulnerability to large-scale destruction.
This second school also labors under an adverse political
dynamic. First, U.S. policy has moved away from accepting
vulnerability after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and has
become increasingly concerned with the possibility that
terrorist organizations could obtain nuclear weapons. The U.S. has
undertaken a monumental effort, even if not effectively in every
instance, to defend itself against the terrorist threat and not to
rely on nuclear retaliation.
More broadly, the American people will likely not be satisfied
with a posture that relies predominantly on retaliation in
response to a large-scale attack by a state actor because they
intuitively recognize that today's and tomorrow's
nuclear-armed state actors will not necessarily behave as
cautiously as the Soviet Union behaved during the Cold War. This
same dynamic also pertains to U.S. allies under the policies of
extended deterrence. For example, Japan accepted its vulnerability
to attack by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but it does not
seem similarly prepared to accept its vulnerability to attack by
North Korea today.
In the U.S. and abroad, people appear to be demanding
protection. They seem to prefer that their governments work to
defend them rather than posturing themselves to seek revenge for an
attack. These admittedly inchoate public demands strike at the
foundation of the proposition that the U.S. should adapt the
balance-of-terror deterrence strategy to the multipolar
Damage Limitation Strategy. The third school of thought
has been obscured by the more visible debate between the adherents
of the first and second schools. Further, while proponents of
this school draw on the earlier work of Herman Kahn, they are still
working to apply the strategy to today's circumstances. The
foundation for this school of thought is found in the Bush
Administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), as described by the
Department of Defense in early 2002. The chief architects of
the NPR included then-Assistant Secretary of Defense J. D. Crouch
and then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Keith Payne.
More recently, prominent commentator Charles Krauthammer has
expressed views consistent with a damage limitation strategy.
Supporters of the damage limitation strategy share the first
school's skepticism about the reliability of the Cold War
nuclear deterrence strategy in today's multipolar world and share
the second school's concern about the risks and achievability of
nuclear disarmament and the negative implications of the
ongoing atrophy of U.S. nuclear weapons. They seek a balanced
strategic posture that rejects the first school's nuclear
disarmament and downplays the contributions of conventional and
defensive strategic forces as accepted by the second
Most important, a damage limitation strategy would seek to
harness this balanced strategic posture to protect and defend
the U.S. and its allies against strategic attacks, as opposed to
relying on either the good will of potential enemies through the
disarmament process or the threat of revenge against those same
potential enemies. It argues for a strategic posture in which
deterrence is defined broadly enough to find room to accommodate
Given today's multipolar world, the Strategic Posture Commission
should recommend that Congress adopt a damage limitation
approach. However, the commission will need to explain such a
strategy to Congress.
A Damage Limitation Strategy for a
The best approach for explaining the damage limitation
strategy, and by extension the strategic posture it advocates,
is to describe the strategy's basic tenets in the context of
today's multipolar world. Beyond describing these basic tenets, the
Strategic Posture Commission could also suggest model
legislative text to Congress, which would help Congress to
codify the damage limitation strategy in law. (See the model
legislative text in the Appendix.)
The basic tenets of the damage limitation strategy are as
Tenet #1: The purpose of the U.S.
strategic posture is to limit the damage from attacks on the U.S.
and its friends and allies, particularly damage from attacks with
nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Specifically, U.S. strategic forces should protect and defend
the peoples, territories, infrastructure, and institutions of the
U.S. and its allies against attack. They should do so by dissuading
potential enemies from obtaining WMDs and the means to deliver
them. Where nonproliferation efforts fail, they should deter these
enemies from using such weapons, defend against any attempted
attacks, and blunt the impact of attacks that do get through the
defenses. In all circumstances, the damage
limitation strategy should set a very high hurdle for those
who might be tempted to try to achieve their political or
military aims by attacking the U.S. or its allies.
As noted, the overall damage limitation posture cannot be a
perfect defense that eliminates all risk of damage or destruction
to the peoples of the U.S. and allied countries. Hence, it is
called a damage limitation strategy, not a damage
elimination strategy. In fact, all three strategy options
available to the Strategic Posture Commission, as well as hybrids
of the three, have inherent limitations and carry significant
risks. There is no risk-free approach, and a requirement for a
risk-free posture is doomed to failure. Adopting a damage
limitation strategy would be the least risky of the three
The damage limitation strategy is fundamentally defensive in
purpose. It is a clear step away from a strategy that could be
fashioned to serve aggressive purposes. Appropriately applied, it
is thoroughly consistent with just war principles, which
emphasize the just purposes of protecting and defending
Tenet #2: A retaliation-based
deterrence strategy is inappropriate for today's multipolar
One of the three strategy options is to multilateralize the
balance-of-terror deterrence policy of the Cold War. This strategy
would effectively carry over the dominant strategy of the Cold War.
It would have the U.S. and its allies seek a posture that leaves
them vulnerable to an unknowable number of potential
A posture of vulnerability is risky in an environment with
many participants, each with different outlooks and strategic
goals, particularly when nonstate actors are included in the
mix. While these risks can be demonstrated quite compellingly at
the theoretical level, the theory is confirmed by practical
The scalding experience of the attacks on September 11,
2001, has taught both policymakers and the U.S. population at large
that Cold War deterrence--preventing attacks by threatening
overwhelming counterattacks--is a fragile concept in today's
world and subject to failure. Since 9/11, the U.S. has predictably
put in place defensive policies and programs that seek to reduce
its overall vulnerability to attack. In fact, at some levels,
the U.S. is already pursuing a damage limitation strategy, even if
it does not recognize that it is doing so. This is a tacit
acknowledgment that the strategy of multilateralizing MAD is
inherently more risky than a damage limitation strategy.
The judgment about the inappropriateness of a multilateralized
MAD strategy also extends to the moral dimension. Both the Bush
Administration and the American people as a whole were
uncomfortable with the morality of the proposition that the
proper response to the 9/11 attacks was to launch an overwhelming
attack on the population and industrial infrastructure of a target
state or community. Clearly, they prefer defense over
retaliation and prefer that any retaliation be focused on
diminishing the likelihood of successful attacks in the
The moral and prudential arguments for retaliation-based
deterrence to counter a single rogue state are only slightly
stronger than the arguments for countering terrorist organizations.
At best, for example, it is a morally dubious proposition that the
U.S. should respond to a nuclear attack by the North Korean regime
by incinerating a large number of half-starved North Korean
peasants who are also victims of the regime. Given that the North
Korean regime is not particularly concerned about the well-being of
the North Korean population, it is not likely to be deterred by
retaliatory threats against that population.
Finally, even a state-based multipolar world raises serious
questions about the effectiveness of a retaliation-based
deterrence policy based on mutual vulnerability. Here the
problem is one of complexity and unpredictability. When many state
actors, even if eminently rational, are confronting each other at
various levels of intensity, applying the deterrence dynamic in a
reliable fashion becomes increasingly difficult as additional
actors are added to the mix.
On this basis, the Strategic Posture Commission should recommend
that Congress explicitly acknowledge that the U.S. is moving
away from the balance-of-terror policy of the Cold War.
Tenet #3: An effective damage
limitation strategy relies on a mix of offensive and defensive
A damage limitation strategy is fundamentally a defensive
strategy. However, an effective damage limitation strategy, just
like other effective defensive strategies, cannot rely exclusively
on defensive forces at the tactical level. It will require a mix of
offensive and defensive forces. Thus, the U.S. will need offensive
forces that are capable of destroying the enemy's attacking forces
before they can be employed effectively. Defensive forces will
serve both to destroy the attacking forces of the enemy following
their employment and to limit the impact of these attacking
As a part of the broader U.S. strategic posture, the overall mix
of U.S. offensive and defensive forces and capabilities would fall
into three baskets: offensive strategic nuclear forces; offensive
strategic conventional forces (frequently referred to as prompt
global strike); and defenses. The specific weapons and programs to
include in this mix should be determined by targeting requirements.
The proper approach for establishing these targeting requirements
is discussed in Tenet #4.
The mix of forces and capabilities could include:
- Nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs);
- Conventionally armed long-range and short-range ballistic
- Nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles
- Conventionally armed SLBMs;
- Conventionally armed sea-based cruise missiles;
- Nuclear-armed sea-based cruise missiles;
- Bombers armed with conventional bombs and cruise missiles;
- Bombers armed with nuclear bombs and cruise missiles;
- Ballistic missile defenses;
- Cruise missile defenses;
- Air defenses;
- Counterterrorism defenses; and
- Civil defenses.
However, the review of the proper mix of forces should not be
limited to these systems, because development efforts under the
damage limitation strategy may reveal that systems not listed here
could make important contributions to executing the strategy.
Tenet #4: An effective damage
limitation strategy requires a global strategic target list that is
The mix of forces in the overall U.S. strategic posture should
be tied to specific targeting requirements and a target set.
The President should establish the targeting requirements by
issuing a classified strategic targeting directive that assigns the
task of identifying the global list of strategic targets to
the intelligence community and the military. The global target list
should include strategic-class weapons that could be used to attack
the U.S. and its allies and the organizations and infrastructure
necessary to support those weapons.
Today's multipolar world requires this worldwide target
list. While the targeting directive should be drafted so that it
can govern the strategic posture for years to come, the target list
itself will require continuous updating.
The targeting directive should task the military with allocating
the target list across the three baskets of strategic forces:
offensive nuclear, offensive conventional, and defenses. The
target allocation should optimize the damage limitation strategy's
chance of success, the quantity of forces used, the level of the
civil defense effort, and the timeliness for execution. These
assignments should include appropriate redundancy. For example, an
enemy ICBM in a hardened silo could be assigned to the offensive
nuclear force basket, while the same ICBM after it is launched
would be assigned to the defensive basket.
Strategic Command should take the lead in allocating the
targeting assignments, but other combatant commands should be
permitted to make recommendations. Essentially, the size and
structure of the overall strategic force and civil defense
posture should be driven by the target set.
Tenet #5: The U.S. must modernize its
The current U.S. strategic force structure is not adapted to the
requirements of the damage limitation strategy. In fact, it
consists almost entirely of weapons and programs held over from the
Cold War and its balance-of-terror strategy. The civil defense
element of the posture needs a broader focus.
On the offensive side of the strategic force structure, the
picture is bleak. The nuclear triad remains as it was in 1991, only
smaller. This is in a context where the U.S. nuclear weapons
infrastructure and human capital have been permitted to atrophy to
an alarming extent. At the same time, Congress has been reluctant
to add conventional prompt global strike weapons to the strategic
The defensive side of the strategic force posture also has
serious shortcomings. The ballistic missile defense program is
moving forward, but 30 years spent under the Anti-Ballistic Missile
(ABM) Treaty--which prohibited the development, testing, or
deployment of effective ballistic missile defenses--have left U.S.
ballistic missile defense capabilities lagging behind the threat.
Cruise missile defenses for U.S. ships exist, but land-based
defenses are nonexistent.
U.S. air defenses at the end of the Cold War were pathetic, a
casualty of the era's balance-of-terror strategy. The 9/11
Commission's report revealed the inadequacy of the air defense
system, and it has improved only marginally since then.
U.S. civil defenses also atrophied during the Cold War, although
the civil defense program has improved since September 11, 2001.
However, the improvements have focused narrowly on countering
Adopting a damage limitation strategy will require a thorough
review of the options for modernizing all elements of the U.S.
strategic posture. While targeting requirements would determine the
overall size of the force structure, initial modernization
efforts can start now. The U.S. could also begin immediately to
broaden its civil defense effort. The review of weapons
modernization should extend both to the weapons themselves,
particularly nuclear weapons, and to the delivery systems. While
the weapons currently in the arsenal can likely be adapted to the
requirements of the damage limitation strategy, new weapons will
need to be created to meet other targeting requirements.
Proponents of U.S. nuclear disarmament will oppose virtually all
steps to modernize the strategic force posture. Those who favor
multilateralizing the balance-of-terror strategy will support
selective modernization of the strategic nuclear force, but little
Tenet #6: The U.S. should promote
international movement toward a damage limitation strategy.
As the U.S. moves to adopt a damage limitation strategy, it
should welcome similar steps by other states. Insofar as the damage
limitation strategy is a defensive strategy, it is rooted in the
twin principles of nonaggression and individual and collective
self-defense. In this context, the U.S. should not object when
other states take military steps to defend themselves as long as
these steps are firmly linked to the principle of
During the Cold War, measures to defend the population were
considered destabilizing, and reliance on offensive nuclear
forces was promoted in service to the narrow definition of
deterrence and its reliance on retaliation. Those who support
multilateralizing the balance-of-terror strategy would
continue to rely on retaliatory forces. In a multipolar world,
the retaliation-based deterrence strategy is misplaced because it
assumes the bipolar international structure of the Cold
U.S. foreign policy needs to return to first
principles--specifically, government's obligation to defend
the population. On this basis, the U.S. should welcome similar
steps by other states to protect and defend their populations,
territories, infrastructure, and institutions as long as these
steps are rooted in the principle of nonaggression.
On the other hand, U.S. security policy should identify the
offensive forces of foreign states, particularly those that
are geared to targeting population and industrial centers as
aggressive and destabilizing and/or wedded to non-status quo
foreign policies. Those who favor U.S. nuclear disarmament are
likely comfortable with the principle of nonaggression but
unlikely to support defensive measures. Thus, neither those who
favor multilateralizing the balance of terror nor those who favor
U.S. nuclear disarmament will be in a position to use diplomacy
that serves U.S. security interests effectively.
U.S. diplomacy to encourage broader international
acceptance of the damage limitation strategy should begin with the
other nuclear weapons states identified by the Nonproliferation
Treaty: China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The five
states should consider a joint statement that they will posture
their strategic forces in ways to protect and defend their
populations, territories, infrastructure, and institutions
against foreign attack, particularly with WMDs. The joint
statement could also state that they will not target foreign
population and industrial centers and that their strategic force
postures will reflect this pledge. This diplomatic
initiative could then be expanded to other states.
Tenet #7: The U.S. should pursue arms
control in a way that focuses on the most difficult targets.
Arms control can play an important supporting role in the damage
limitation strategy. As the military allocates the targets on
the target list among the three baskets, some targets will be
difficult to hold at risk with offensive forces and difficult to
defend against directly for the purpose of damage limitation. These
foreign weapons should be considered the most destabilizing
under the damage limitation strategy.
Arms control provides a possible means to remove these difficult
targets from the target list. However, the U.S. will need to
exercise care and restraint in pursuing arms control. It should
resist any proposals that would undermine the military capabilities
needed to execute the broader damage limitation strategy.
Of course, those who favor U.S. nuclear disarmament will
oppose the process of arms control in favor of the disarmament
process. Ultimately, this group wants to return to the era of the
Baruch Plan that preceded arms control.
Those who favor the multilateralization of the balance of terror
will support selective arms control policies, but not as a way to
support the damage limitation strategy. They will want to use arms
control to restrict counterforce strategic weapons and
strategic defenses. They will continue to argue that arms control
should serve the purpose of keeping U.S. and foreign populations
vulnerable to attack.
Tenet #8: The U.S. should continue to
The rise of the multipolar world is largely due to the
proliferation of WMDs and delivery systems. Thus, the U.S. must be
prepared to provide for its security in this proliferated
However, this does not mean that the U.S. should abandon the
Nonproliferation Treaty's promise of limiting nuclear arms to the
five states identified by the treaty. The cases of Belarus,
Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Ukraine demonstrate that rolling
back nuclear weapons programs and capabilities is possible
given the right circumstances. The U.S. should be prepared to take
advantage of such opportunities when they arise. Likewise, the
damage limitation strategy is designed to provide for the security
of U.S. allies in a way that discourages them from
proliferating nuclear weapons.
The U.S. also needs to recognize that an imperfect
nonproliferation regime is better than none at all. The multipolar
world is a frightening and dangerous place because of its
complexity and unpredictability. Nonproliferation policies,
even in these imperfect circumstances, can limit this complexity
and the attendant dangers at the margin.
Those in favor of U.S. nuclear disarmament, while seldom
admitting it, believe that the nonproliferation process has
run its course. They see even the existing level of proliferation
as intolerably dangerous and would abandon nonproliferation
for a direct path to global nuclear disarmament that is prompted by
unilateral U.S. disarmament.
Those in favor of multilateralizing the balance of terror seem
rather accommodating of nuclear proliferation. In some cases,
they seem outright dismissive of the nonproliferation
enterprise. Under their policy, the coin of the
nuclear realm will be to achieve an assured destruction capability,
which all but invites current and potential proliferators to
achieve this capability. Further, this group is rather too
confident that the balance-of-terror policy can comfortably accept
additional nuclear proliferation and still maintain stability.
Since the end of the Cold War, Congress has operated in an
intellectual vacuum regarding the policy governing the U.S.
strategic posture. This was due partly to the less pressing demands
during the "unipolar moment" that followed the Cold War and the
Clinton Administration's policy of neglect toward U.S. strategic
Now, at the dawn of a multipolar era, Congress needs to act. The
Strategic Posture Commission's purpose should be to help Congress
fill this intellectual vacuum.
The commission will need to choose from three options in making
its recommendation to Congress. The first option is to establish a
strategy based on U.S. nuclear disarmament in the hope that others
will follow the U.S. lead. The second is to adapt the Cold War
strategy of the balance of terror to a multipolar environment.
The final and best option is for Congress to adopt a damage
limitation strategy, which entails protecting and defending the
United States and its allies against attack in service to a broader
concept of deterrence than applied during the Cold War.
By recommending a damage limitation strategy, the Strategic
Posture Commission will be urging that Congress honor its
constitutional responsibility to provide for the common
defense. The people of the United States expect the federal
government to protect them. By adopting a damage limitation
strategy, Congress can respond positively to that expectation.
is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in
the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Model Legislative Text
The following is model legislative text that the Strategic
Posture Commission could recommend to Congress for codifying the
damage limitation strategy. It is formatted for easy inclusion in a
broader piece of legislation, such as a future defense
Sec. #. Statement of Policy
(a) It shall be the policy of the United States to establish a
damage limitation strategy to protect and defend the United States
and its vital interests in a multipolar world that includes
unpredictable states and nonstate actors, including terrorist
organizations, which are able and willing to perpetrate large-scale
acts of violence.
(b) The central tenets of this strategy are as follows:
(1) The purpose of the damage limitation strategy is to protect
the people, territory, institutions, and infrastructure of the
United States against large-scale acts of violence perpetrated by
both states and nonstate actors by defeating attempted attacks and,
barring the outright defeat of such attacks, by reducing to the
greatest extent possible the likelihood that the perpetrators will
achieve their political and military aims.
(2) An additional purpose of the damage limitation strategy is
to develop cooperative efforts with the allies of the United States
for protecting their peoples, territories, institutions, and
infrastructure against such acts of violence.
(3) Although a perfect defense against such acts of violence is
unobtainable, the damage limitation strategy is most likely to
succeed if it lessens the incentives for both states and nonstate
actors to acquire nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical, and
certain more powerful conventional weapons and their means of
delivery; lessens the incentives to use such weapons in attacks;
and limits the impact of the attacks that do occur.
(4) By establishing the damage limitation strategy, the United
States is making a determined decision to abandon the
retaliation-based deterrence strategy of the Cold War.
(5) In abandoning the retaliation-based deterrence strategy and
its posture of mutual vulnerability to attack, the United States
recognizes that this earlier strategy was designed for the strictly
bipolar international structure of the Cold War era, which no
longer exists, and if applied to the multipolar world of
today, which is inhabited by state and nonstate actors that in some
cases have unpredictable leaders, would lead to unstable and
(6) The United States is abandoning the retaliation-based
deterrence strategy of the Cold War and its posture of mutual
vulnerability at this time in recognition of the fact that it has
already taken irreversible steps to lessen its vulnerability to
attack in responding to the threats posed by extremist Islamist
organizations willing and able to perpetrate large-scale acts of
violence, even in the absence of a damage limitation strategy.
(7) While the damage limitation strategy is fundamentally a
defensive strategy, the United States recognizes that its proper
execution will require tactical military capabilities that draw on
a mix of offensive and defensive forces.
(8) The tactical military capabilities required by the damage
limitation strategy shall be designed to hold at risk a worldwide
set of targets that constitute the means to attack the United
States and its allies, which include the weapons themselves, their
delivery means, command and control structures, leadership
structures, and supporting infrastructure, with a special emphasis
on weapons of mass destruction, in a way that meets the defensive
purpose of the strategy.
(9) Given the targeting requirements necessary to support the
damage limitation strategy, the President of United States, no
later than one year following the date of enactment of this act,
shall issue a new strategic targeting directive, in classified
form, that distributes the target set across offensive, defensive,
conventional, and nuclear forces with an appropriate level of
(10) The United States does not assume that its military forces
designed and built during the Cold War will meet the requirements
of the damage limitation strategy or the derived targeting
directive; therefore, following the adoption of the targeting
directive, the Department of Defense shall commence to design,
build, and where appropriate adapt the nation's military forces to
meet the requirements of the damage limitation strategy and its
(11) Given that the damage limitation strategy and the targeting
directive will establish new military requirements, the Department
of Defense is expected to design and build both conventional and
nuclear forces that are thoroughly modernized.
(12) Energetic diplomacy is necessary to the proper execution of
the damage limitation strategy.
(13) Given that global stability in the multipolar world will
require regional stability and security, the Department of State
shall use the tool of diplomacy to maintain the solidarity of the
worldwide alliance structure led by the United States, specifically
by extending the protective purpose of the damage limitation
strategy to the allies of the United States.
(14) Given the fundamentally defensive nature of the damage
limitation strategy, its adoption and appropriate interpretation by
other states will pose no danger to the United States; therefore,
the State Department shall seek to use the tool of diplomacy to
persuade other states, including allies, friends, and even
potential enemies, to adopt the same strategy.
(15) Arms control may play an important supporting role in the
execution of the damage limitation strategy.
(16) Under the damage limitation strategy, arms control policy
should place a special emphasis on controlling the military
capabilities in potential enemy states, giving priority to
controlling weapons of mass destruction, which are assessed as
presenting the targets that are the most difficult to hold at risk
with the military forces of the United States and it allies, and to
do so in a way that does not undermine the ability of the military
forces of the United States and its allies to meet the broader
requirements of the strategy.
(17) The United States recognizes that pursuing arms control
directly with nonstate actors is not practical, but that arms
control agreements with state actors can serve to limit the access
to weapons by nonstate actors.
(18) Nonproliferation initiatives may play an important
supporting role in executing the damage limitation strategy by
limiting the scope and complexity of the multipolar international
structure and thereby simplify the task of managing stability.
(19) Nonproliferation initiatives, as with arms control
initiatives, may play an important supporting role in executing the
damage limitation strategy by reducing the complexity of performing
the military task of effectively holding at risk the targets that
otherwise may be on the targeting list.
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2008, Public Law 110-181, §1062.
Charles Krauthammer, "The Unipolar Moment,"
Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 1 (America and the World
Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 96.
Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of
Conflict (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1960), p. 233
(emphasis in original).
a meticulous description of the evolution of the theory and
practice of deterrence from the 1960s to the present, see Keith B.
Payne, The Great American Gamble: Deterrence Theory and Practice
from the Cold War to the Twenty-First Century (Fairfax, Va.:
National Institute Press, 2008).
George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A.
Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," The
Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15.
a technical description of the atrophy of the U.S. nuclear force
following the Cold War and circumstantial evidence of problems with
the weapons in the stockpile, see John S. Foster, Jr., "Enhancing
the Reliability of Our Nuclear Deterrent," presentation before the
Congressional Breakfast Series, June 25, 2008.
Arms control and disarmament advocates have
talked about "de-valuing" and "de-emphasizing" the role of nuclear
weapons in national security. For example, see George Perkovich,
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Joseph Cirincione, Rose Gottemoeller, and
Jon Wolfsthal, Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear
Security (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, 2005), pp. 130 and 137.
Harold Brown and John Deutsch, "The Nuclear
Disarmament Fantasy," The Wall Street Journal, November 19,
2007, p. 19.
Murdock, "The Department of Defense and the
Nuclear Mission in the 21st Century," pp. 4-5.
The Heritage Foundation has developed a tool
for examining nuclear stability in a proliferated world, which
shows that nuclear deterrence on the Cold War model is tenuous in
such a circumstance. See Nuclear Stability Working Group,
Nuclear Games: An Exercise Examining Stability and Defenses in a
Proliferated World, Heritage Foundation Ballistic Missile
Defense Technical Studies Series Study No. 4, 2005, at /static/reportimages/5E28E3517AC99663EB6DDC9B1F77D865.pdf.
Murdock, "The Department of Defense and the
Nuclear Mission in the 21st Century," p. 20.
This prescription for the damage limitation
strategy has much in common with the four principles at the core of
the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review's recommendations of
reassurance, dissuasion, deterrence, and defeating attacks. See
U.S. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review
Report, September 30, 2001, p. iv, at /static/reportimages/4BE0A8F75A042D120389833062533F46.pdf (August
Nuclear Stability Working Group, Nuclear
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of
the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004), p. 352, at