Evolution of the nuclear strategy after end of cold war. main vectors of strategic development

Abstract. The Nuclear strategy as an indispensible part of the system of international security has undergone some significant transformations after the end of cold war. The new security conditions of the emerging multipolar world have essential impact on the transformation of the conceptual structure of modern nuclear strategy. Important role under the shaping and development of modern nuclear strategy were made by technologies which provide to the increasing of the role of tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons which in turns changes traditional understanding of the nuclear strategy.

The Nuclear strategy after the end of Cold war undergone significant transformation in its conceptual sense, in spite of announced changes, transformation process took some time in order to calibrate and clearly define apparent and ultimate goals of modern strategy. Bipolar confrontation between two superpowers did not more put agenda of military-political and military-strategic situation in the world. US nuclear strategy faced with multiple actors of the international security system which is characterized by diffusion or multipolarity of forces. Conceptual sense of the nuclear force is no more constructed in the framework of its hypothetical utility in the context of US- Soviet nuclear conflict. US nuclear strategy is determined by the many technical, political and situational factors of the influence.

Strategic role and place of nuclear weapon is about its level of destructiveness which in military utility levels the classic understanding of victory, that`s why presence and hypothetical use of the nuclear weapon became a determinative factor in defining of deterrence. Logic of deterrence is based on mutual strike, in the course of which both belligerent would take huge damages. As a result, total destructions after the use of nuclear weapons demonstrated that nuclear weapons possess more strategic sense than direct military, taking into account its hypothetical use.

Generally, evolution of the nuclear strategy in the Cold war can be defined in three major stages:

  • First, second half of 1940s and 1950s;
  • Second, 1960s;
  • Third, 1970-1980s.

The first stage in the history of nuclear strategy is characterized by the introduction of nuclear weapons and the possibility of their military use during a hypothetical conflict. The first theoretical methods of warfare are being developed through long-range strategic bombers. The second stage in the evolution of the nuclear strategy is characterized by the first nuclear «experience» of the two superpowers during the Caribbean crisis / the Cuban missile crisis, where there was the possibility of direct use of nuclear weapons and achieving a level of strategic parity between the superpowers [1]. The expression of strategic parity was the doctrine of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which according to the calculations of strategists on both sides should lead to the destruction of 70% of industry and 30% of the population, although for the period of the late 1960s. The United States significantly surpassed the Soviet Union in terms of the number of nuclear arsenals [2], and in this context the Soviet diplomacy made significant success in nuclear settlement that were in favor of the Soviet side. This event subsequently affected the elections in the United States, where

Reagan viewed the Soviet nuclear policy as an offensive [3].

The third stage, the period of the 1970s, 1980s, is characterized by the development of mechanisms of nuclear interaction between the superpowers. During this period, nuclear weapons ceased to be exclusively the prerogative of nation states, specifically, superpowers, and was incorporated into an arms control mechanism. A feature of the third period in the evolution of nuclear strategy during the Cold War period is an active dialogue on arms control and signing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty, 1972), Strategic Arms Limitation Talks I (SALT I, 1972), and Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II (SALT II, 1979) [4].

The post-Cold War nuclear strategy is a set of strategic visions of the role and place of nuclear weapons in the military sphere of official and unofficial nuclear powers. In academic relations, in this case, the ideas and concepts of the United States and its Western NATO allies dominate, as other countries seek to preserve the secrecy of tactics and strategies for the use of nuclear weapons.

The initial transformations of the nuclear strategy began after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the revision of the strategic vision of the administration of the President of the United States and other related structures on nuclear policy. According to a government document Presidential Review Directive/National Security Council - 31 (PRD/NSC-31) - US Policy on Missile Defense and the Future of the ABM Treaty (U.S. Policy on Ballistic Missile Defenses) the main postulates and general outlines of the nuclear strategy in the post-Cold War period were defined. «In January 1991, the US missile defense policy was reoriented in light of the reduction of the Soviet threat to the protection of the United States, US forces stationed abroad, friends and allies against an accidental / unauthorized and/ or limited missile strike - a global defense system against limited strikes» [5].

  • Another defining document of the post-Cold War nuclear strategy is the Missile Defense Act (MDA). The MDA, as amended, sets forth the following United States missile defense objectives: «(1) comply with the missile defense treaty, including any protocol or amendment thereto ... when deploying a missile defense system that is capable of ensuring high effectiveness of the United States defense States against limited missile attack; (2) maintaining strategic stability; and (3) the provision of a highly efficient rocket defense theater to US forces, friends, and allies [5]. It also requires efforts on separate negotiations of amendments/changes to the ABM Treaty to enhance the effectiveness of defense». Document PRD/NSC-31 deduces three main directions of nuclear policy:
  • policy priorities in relation to missile defense;
  • assessment of changes under the ABM Treaty in the light of these transformations;
  • alignment of the missile defense strategy with Russia and other allies.

The document also addresses the following aspects of nuclear policy: threats, a missile defense system, and an ABM treaty. Threats include the following factors: random and / or unauthorized launching of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), taking into account the hypothetical level of threats from the Chinese ICBMs and the prospects for the evolution of the People`s Republic of China (PRC) missile forces over the next 10-15 years; the threat to the allies of the United States and the US armed forces located abroad from short- and medium-range missiles and the prospects for the evolution of this threat over the next 10-15 years. In the field of antimissile defense systems, the following objectives and tasks for the development of anti-missile defense systems are set within the document:

  • new conditions and requirements for US national security in the framework of the formed theater missile defense;
  • determining the maximum level of defense within the theater of operations that can be provided by a single missile defense system, which will not contradict the agreements under the ABM Treaty and which will be able to withstand accidental or unauthorized launch from several ICBMs or Submarine Launch Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or proliferators;
  • the capabilities of the Theater Air Defense (TAD) and other anti-tactical ballistic missiles, both air and sea.
  • the capabilities of cosmic deterrent forces.

The document also considers the following aspects regarding the ABM Treaty: effect on the ABM Treaty provisions of the replacement of the ground installations, Ground-based Surveillance and Tracking System (GSTS) or the diamond eye, what kind of effects would be on ABM Treaty in the course of changes; the technical threshold between anti-tactical missiles and missile defense interceptors; result of an increase in the effectiveness of theater missiles and what changes will there be under the ABM Treaty; position of other states in the event of these changes in the framework of the ABM Treaty, Russia and other allies [5].

US Goals and Missile Defense Program

The next document regulating the policy in the field of nuclear strategy was the document entitled «Presidential Decision Directive / NSC- 17» dated December 11, 1993. This document governs the ballistic missile defense policy and the future of the ABM Treaty. According to this paper, the United States will pursue a policy that will ensure the implementation of the following important points:

  • ensuring enhanced missile defense capabilities at the end of this decade;
  • supporting national missile defense as a technology research and development program;
  • development of the next generation of technology and conducting research programs to improve missile technology.

The document considers such aspects of missile defense as missile theater development, the ABM Treaty and cooperation in the field of missile defense [6].

The development of Rocket Theater

The goal of the development of a Theater Missile Defense (TMD) missile program is to minimize two threats to the security of the United States: regional threats to the United States and the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). According to the document, the theater will perform the following roles:

  • «to promote high-performance protection against limited attacks of tactical missiles for the further deployment and concentration of scattered expeditionary elements of the US armed forces and for the facilities and forces of friends and allies of the United States»;
  • organization of effective protection of US settlements and allies. This form of protection can be carried out by a missile theater complex with «minimal intersection with enemy rocket forces» [6].

The ABM Treaty

As of 1993, the Administration remains committed to the traditional understanding of the ABM Treaty, that includes the preservation of missile defense systems around the capitals.

The United States will not seek to amend the ABM Treaty to allow the fulfillment / implementation of the following items: (1) expanding the number of ABM objects and ground-based interceptors beyond the currently allowed limits (1 and 100 respectively); (2) development, testing and implementation of space sensors for direct military control (i.e., satellites capable of replacing radar) or (3) «the development, testing or deployment of space interceptors. The document notes that the United States may revise these goals if a decision is made to modernize the ICBM program» [6].

Forecasting the development of rocket TMD/ ABM is a top priority in the US defense planning, thus new technological changes within the framework of missile defense technology will have an effect on the ABM Treaty (1972), which is one of the key points of the modernization process. The document sets forth the definition of the technical properties of a theater missile defense: «A theater missile defense will not be considered capable of withstanding a strategic ballistic missile (ICBM) if it has not been tested against an ICBM. The ICBM, in turn, will be determined with a maximum speed exceeding 5.0 km /s» [6].

Cooperation in the field of missile defense covers the following aspects of interaction:

  • share information / alerts with allies about an early missile attack;
  • plan and use anti-tactical ballistic missile forces (ATBM forces);
  • Implement technology cooperation to help develop a positive security relationship between the United States and Russia and to serve as the main strategy for responding to the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The United States will adopt a regional bilateral approach to cooperation in the field of missile defense in each of the three points listed.

In particular, the report focuses on cooperation with Russia in the field of missile defense. It was noted that cooperation in the field of missile technology depends on the success and pace of political and economic reforms, adherence to arms control agreements and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). In this document, the standards and priorities for the control of missile technology are noted for the first time:

The importance of non-proliferation, namely the non-proliferation of rocket technologies, is important, as the document emphasized that, on the one hand, cooperation in the field of the MTCR should contribute to «reducing escalator tendencies that impede the development of offensive military capabilities; can create and contribute to US efforts to counter proliferation». Also highlighted are the nuances of cooperation on missile defense and non-proliferation and missile control: «Tensions between our missile defense efforts and our non-proliferation goals can arise if and when we need to cooperate with non-missile control countries in development or sales of missile interceptors. Entry into this kind of cooperation could easily put the United States in a position related to behavior that we will object to and may have to impose sanctions if they are implemented by other countries. Thus, the US will strictly limit the number of non-MTCR states with which such cooperation will take place» [5].

With the coming to power of the Republican administration of J. Bush Jr. The US nuclear, strategic policy has undergone a number of transformations, taking into account the neoconservative ideology and its offensive nature, these political guidelines, respectively, reflected on the adopted nuclear strategy. As some analysts say, its content is dominated by a greater degree of offensive components [7]. The NDP creates new roles for nuclear weapons and calls for the creation of new weapons and increased opportunities for the production of new weapons (the introduction of new types of weapons). The NDP makes it a priority to preserve a significant nuclear arsenal, a healthy/necessary nuclear infrastructure. A separate group of analysts spoke about the 2002 Bush Administration’s nuclear strategy, pointing out that the nuclear strategy is offensive in nature and does not meet the real security priorities of the United States in the new security environment. For example, according to the 2002 Nuclear Concept, the United States can launch a nuclear strike in the event of a nuclear, chemical, biological or conventional attack, while the parallel report «Towards True Nuclear Strategy» means only nuclear aspects of security.

Strategy and doctrine

Offensive nuclear weapons will play a role in deterrence strategies, but they will also be complemented by missile defense and conventional strike forces. According to the Republican administration, missile defense will strengthen deterrence by repelling an enemy attack on the United States. In accordance with the 2002 strategy, nuclear weapons will be complemented by conventional strike forces, in the capabilities of the United States to attack broad enemy targets without focusing on nuclear weapons [8].

For the strategic objectives of the 2002 Nuclear Concept, three main priorities of the nuclear and conventional forces are highlighted:

  1. Ensuring guarantees to allies and friends of US responsibilities for ensuring their national security;
  2. To argue against rivals from a nuclear call or other applicable threats of an «asymmetric nature»;
  3. Destruction of opponents in case of failure of the doctrine of deterrence.

The structure of forces

According to the 2002 Nuclear Concept, the new triad consists of the following elements: offensive strike forces, missile defense, and the response infrastructure to support the forces. Strategic core forces are combined with the capabilities of the conventional shock forces. Separate attention in the framework of the 2002 Nuclear Concept is taken by the position on the reciprocal infrastructure, according to which in the nuclear planning the Bush administration pays no small attention to the preservation and possible subsequent deployment of previously reserved core forces. This situation is well described by Amy Wolfe in her report to the Congress «Overview of the Nuclear Situation: Vision and Emerging Issues»: «in conjunction with the remaining force structure (14 Trident class submarines, 500 Main marine ICBMs, 76 B-52 bombers, and 21 B-2 bombers; these warheads form a «retaliatory force» that can be restored to deployment over several months or years. «The problem of «response force» is to regulate the actual number of nuclear warheads, since the documents concluded between the USA and the USSR / Russia do not define the exact number of warheads, but indicate the specific number of means of warhead deliveries» [9].


The Nuclear Concept defines a «response infrastructure» as a key element of a nuclear strategy. The goal of preserving the «response infrastructure» is to «reduce risks» while the number of quickly deployed missiles is decreasing. «With a small number of warheads, the urgency of maintaining the confidence of the remaining nuclear weapons is increasing». The state and development of the «response infrastructure» must also be considered within the framework of START-2 cuts, where an international mechanism influences the formation and adaptation of the «response infrastructure». In an active reserve, at least 3,500 nuclear warheads may remain, possibly up to 4,000 warheads [9].

The offensive features of the US nuclear concepts are a direct consequence of the offensive policies of the Republican administration. Despite the end of the Cold War and the absence of any specific nuclear threat, the formation of a nuclear strategy took place in the spirit of the ideas of neoconservatism. Therefore, the nuclear strategy, despite the reduction of the apparent threat from the former Soviet/Russian nuclear forces.

The last, determining and regulating nuclear policy is the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR 2018). This document was adopted under the Trump presidency and introduces the main lines of US nuclear policy for the medium term.

The role and place of nuclear weapons in the NPR 2018, according to the new document, contribute to "deterring nuclear and non-nuclear aggression." It is also emphasized that nonnuclear forces, in historical perspective, play an important role in deterrence, but they were not able to stop the war between the powers until a nuclear advantage was achieved. U S nuclear capabilities and long-term national goals:

  • Deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks;
  • Warranty to allies and friends;
  • Achieve US goals, if deterrence fails
  • Ability to counter future uncertainties [10].

The United States will take an individual and flexible approach to effectively deter a wide range of adversaries, threats, and contexts. For these purposes, the United States will maintain and modernize its capabilities N3 (nuclear command, control and communications), the integration of nuclear and non-nuclear forces. As part of these changes, the combat command and control system will carry out training, and the integration of nuclear and non-nuclear forces in order to counter nuclear threats [10].

Key points regarding the organization of the Triad

«The triad synergy and matching attributes help to ensure the robust survivability of our deterrent against attack and our ability to put at risk a number of enemy targets in a crisis or conflict». As part of the ongoing initiative to develop and implement a new nuclear triad, the Trump administration’s nuclear policy will continue to implement the following strategic initiatives: use of 14 Ohio-class submarines until they are replaced by at least 12 submarines of the Columbia class;

  • ICBMs consist of 400 single carrying warheads housed in silos. 3 Minuteman will be replaced as part of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program by 2029. The Terrestrial Strategic Containment Program will carry out the modernization of 450 launches of ICBMs;
  • The air force of the nuclear triad consists of 46 B-52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear charges and 20 Stealth B-2A nuclear bombers. Work is underway to create and implement a new generation of strategic bomber, namely the B-21 «Raider». This bomber will complement and eventually replace elements of conventional and nuclear-capable bomber force from the mid- 2020s. It speaks of the integration of nuclear and conventional forces.
  • The B83-1 and B61-11 bombs will be kept in stock until the B61-12 bomb is introduced in 2020.
  • Attention is paid to upgrading B-52N strategic bombers equipped with ALCMs [10].

Strengthening deterrence with
non-nuclear strategic forces

Strengthening the containment of nuclear forces requires the introduction of non-strategic nuclear forces, which by their characteristics will be more mobile and flexible. Non-strategic nuclear forces must be flexible to respond to different conflicts and crises, within possible, regional conflicts. The use of non-strategic nuclear forces will increase the nuclear threshold, which in turn will lead to a reconsideration of the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons by a potential adversary. In this regard, the F-35 fighter and SLBM are considered the most appropriate [10].


Nuclear strategy after the end of the Cold War, has undergone a significant transformation in its conceptual meaning. The Nuclear strategy in its military-political and military-strategic implications is an integral part of the international security system. In general, the nuclear strategy is manifested in the following aspects of the system of international relations:

  • Development of non-strategic nuclear forces, mainly tactical nuclear weapons. This vector of military-technical development is mainly due to the localization of conflicts within the framework of the modern system of international security. During the Cold War, the nuclear powers were represented by the United States and the USSR, and the concentration of military confrontation was in Europe, while nuclear weapons are now spreading across regions of the world;
  • Nuclear weapons have largely become ornamental, in particular the possession of large stocks of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. There is a convergence of strategic and conventional forces;
  • Nuclear strategy is more characterized by multipolarity, as a response to modern challenges and threats. Nuclear strategy in its moral meaning, has become the spokesman for the desires and aspirations of mankind to put nuclear weapons under final control. Nuclear strategy, as part of the continuation of politics, is in a dynamic phase and may change within the framework of a changing political context.

In general, the nuclear strategy within the framework of an integrated system of international relations is incorporated into the system of general and global international law, where non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the achievement of the ideal of a nuclear- free world play a significant role. The nuclear strategy in this regard has become characterized by the achievement of nuclear stability, which implies the absence of any global situation of a military-political nature conducive to the direct military, albeit hypothetical use of nuclear weapons. Accordingly, the nuclear strategy began to define international legal norms and safety standards. In a post-Cold War nuclear strategy, tactical nuclear weapons replace strategic nuclear forces, whose functionality increases to a large extent in potential collisions of a multipolar world. The desire to preserve the nuclear arsenal as a military symbol of the major powers and the "conventionalization" of nuclear forces, which was also mentioned by the Soviet Marshal Ogarkov, continues to preserve the relative instability of the emerging multi-polar world.



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  8. Nuclear posture review [experts] 2002 // https://fas.org/wp- content / uploads / media / Excerpts-of-Classified-Nuclear-Posture-Review.pdf
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  10. Nuclear Posture Review 2018 // https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL- REPORT .PDF
Year: 2018
City: Almaty