Home World It’s time to dust off the old Nuclear War-Fighting Playbook

It’s time to dust off the old Nuclear War-Fighting Playbook


“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

This precise phrase, to which Western governments appeal regularly, wasn’t just a coincidence. After a Carter-era review of nuclear posture, American war planners realized that the Soviet leadership considered a nuclear exchange a viable option. This was during the Reagan administration’s early years. “Should nuclear attack nonetheless occur,” the Nuclear Security Decision Directive 13 read, “the United States and its Allies must prevail.”

Accordingly, the administration had prepared flexible, adaptable defense options in the event of a prolonged nuclear conflict with Soviet Union. This created a good deal of public anxiety, which was fueled by Moscow’s insistence that the new doctrine all but advertised Washington’s preparedness for a first-strike scenario.

So the Reagan administration retreated—rhetorically, at least. Although the White House referred to the notion that nuclear weapons were of no instrumental utility, the doctrine of nuclear warfare replaced the assumption that a nuclear war was an insurmountable battle. If Moscow and Washington generally agreed that no party to such a conflict could “win,” one side could most certainly lose more than the…

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