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.