U.S nuclear weapon policy
The reasons for retaining a triad, a product of very conservative estimates of what would be required to cope with a disarming Soviet first strike, are not discussed officially. The assumption is that a floor exists beneath which U.S. forces cannot be allowed to fall, but this minimum level is not necessarily determined by targeting doctrine or the political goals that the doctrine is meant to uphold.
The question of which countries the United States will target with nuclear weapons in the future and under what circumstances is simply not articulated and certainly not clearly understood. According to some officials, this question does not require an a priori answer. The preponderance of U.S. strategic forces remains targeted at the former Soviet nuclear arsenal, considered an immutable imperative. Despite an agreement reached for the two sides to retarget their forces away from one another's territories a symbolic step it is emphasized repeatedly by defense officials that weapons could be rapidly retargeted if necessary. The targeting review conducted by the Bush administration purportedly generated plans that provided for flexible options for global application, including the ability to retarget weapons quickly to meet any contingency. More recently, plans have been discussed to target third world countries with highly accurate conventional forces as well.
The vanishing Cold War nuclear order was the product of a need to deter aggression against NATO by superior Warsaw Pact conventional forces. NATO members were unwilling or unable to dedicate sufficient resources or to take the necessary steps to restructure their defense sectors to rectify the disparities in conventional capabilities. Nuclear weapons were a cheap way of maintaining a military balance. Outside of NATO, nuclear guarantees were extended very selectively to close U.S. allies who confronted proximate enemies allied with or part of the Soviet bloc. Insofar as these arrangements were considered legitimate, it was as part of a bipolar system in which the United States, Europe, and a few other allies were united in a defensive alliance, while the Soviet Union was seen as an expansionist power bent on global hegemony.
With the exception of Russia and China, the current nuclear threat, to the extent it can be reliably defined, consists of a handful of states with small or fledgling programs and sometimes just immodest ambitions. This is not to belittle the dangers such states may pose to international or regional stability in the future. But the sudden elevation of third world powers to the status of ruthless enemies on a par with the Soviet Union bears further examination, especially since it is now becoming a principal rationale for retaining a U.S. nuclear deterrent.
Part of the logic of this argument hinges on the notion that the Soviet Union was rational, valued its survival, and could be targeted effectively, whereas the nuclear powers of the future probably will not share these traits.
Now this may questioned "Will our nuclear adversaries always be rational, or at least operate with the same logic as we do We can't be sure. Will we always be able to put our adversaries at risk to make deterrence work Not necessarily, particularly with terrorists whom we may not even be able to find." But if one is going to make the argument that U.S. strategy falls apart in the face of a third world