The basic elements of American readiness for nuclear war remain today what they were almost sixty years ago: Thousands of nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, aimed mainly at Russian military targets including command and control, many in or near cities. The declared official rationale for such a system has always been primarily the supposed need to deterâ€”or if necessary respond toâ€”an aggressive Russian nuclear first strike against the United States. That widely believed public rationale is a deliberate deception. Deterring a surprise Soviet nuclear attackâ€”or responding to such an attackâ€”has never been the only or even the primary purpose of our nuclear plans and preparations. The nature, scale, and posture of our strategic nuclear forces has always been shaped by the requirements of quite different purposes: to attempt to limit the damage to the United States from Soviet or Russian retaliation to a U.S. first strike against the USSR or Russia. This capability is, in particular, intended to strengthen the credibility of U.S. threats to initiate limited nuclear attacks, or escalate themâ€”U.S. threats of “first use”â€”to prevail in regional, initially non-nuclear conflicts involving Soviet or Russian forces or their allies.
Ellsberg, Daniel. The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Bloomsbury; New York. 2017. p. 12 (italics in original)