Strategic Command and Control: Redefining the Nuclear Threat

2016-09-14

in Bombs and rockets, Books and literature, Geek stuff, History, Politics, Security

Bruce Blair’s Strategic Command and Control: Redefining the Nuclear Threat (1985) effectively demolishes some of the core ideas in U.S. nuclear strategy. The book is largely focused on command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) and emphasizes how, while the U.S. raced ahead with developing vast numbers of nuclear weapon systems, it does not have a command and control infrastructure that is capable of functioning after being attacked. This makes notions of protracted nuclear war, ‘flexible response’, or negotiation while a nuclear war is ongoing seem entirely misguided. The ability to understand what is going on and exercise effective control over forces is certain to be degraded by everything from unintended strikes on C3I systems located near nuclear weapons, to the electromagnetic pulse effects of nuclear weapon detonation, to the destruction of RADAR systems, to the deliberate or collateral destruction of warning and communication satellites, to human errors and delays.

It’s obviously not the most up-to-date book, but it seems highly likely that most of the key arguments about the U.S. remain relevant. Between all the effects a series of nuclear strikes on the U.S. would have, it’s quite plausible that any ability to respond flexibly or continue to make sophisticated choices for days or weeks after the attack will be eliminated.

The issues discussed are also relevant in a world of nuclear proliferation. Politicians, military figures, and the public in all nuclear weapon states may systematically pay too much attention to the number and capability of nuclear weapon systems, while neglecting questions about the robustness of their command and control infrastructure and the plausibility of their doctrines for nuclear war fighting.

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Milan September 14, 2016 at 8:32 pm

The proposed “No Immediate Second Use” policy on p. 289-295 is unlike any proposal I have seen elsewhere, based around the idea of making any American nuclear retaliation impossible for 24 hours, allowing decision-makers to properly think it through:

[E]fforts to strengthen command performance and hence crisis stability are more likely to succeed if they are disassociated from war-fighting and war-winning doctrines. Protracted war-fighting in order to prevail does not appeal strongly to traditional strategic principles and constituencies, and programs advanced under such label are apt to be strongly resisted. At the same time, command preparations for prevailing in protracted nuclear war are apt to stimulate vigorous Soviet countermeasures. Command preparation for delayed response is less provocative and not at variance with the component of U.S. declaratory policy that remains the cornerstone of U.S. deterrence strategy and the focus of broad consensus: assured destruction. The aims of the proposed doctrine require substantial adjustments to U.S. operational posture, but they do reemphasize the inadmissibility of intercontinental nuclear war and the negligible military utility of nuclear weapons. (p. 294)

It’s hard to assess how applicable such an idea could be in a world where the threat of nuclear was isn’t principally constrained to a large-scale exchange between the U.S. and USSR.

I had also never heard of meteor burst communications.

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