May 15, 2014

Challenges in U.S. National Security Policy (Chapter 10 by Elbridge Colby)

By Elbridge Colby

What should the long-term policy of the United States be regarding the role and guidelines for the potential employment of its nuclear weapons? Whatever one thinks of the merits of the project to abolish nuclear weapons, we find ourselves still very far from the realization of its goal, despite the endeavor’s recent rise to the top of the international security agenda and its embrace by large numbers of distinguished political and military figures. Given that the reasons that have impelled almost a dozen nationstates to obtain and maintain nuclear weapons remain potent today, it seems clear that nuclear weapons will remain an important part of the international security landscape for as far into the future as the eye can see. It is therefore important for the United States to prepare its nuclear policy and forces for the long haul. 

On what lasting conceptual foundations, then, should the United States form its nuclear force structure and posture, decide about the appropriate criteria for using or threatening to use its nuclear weapons, and determine what measures it is prepared to undertake in terms of the restraint and control of these arms? Which attributes of U.S. nuclear capability should be privileged and which disfavored? Which strategic, military, and political ends should U.S. nuclear policy seek to serve? And how should the current U.S. nuclear policy, forces, and day-to-day posture differ from the nuclear policy and posture inherited from the closing years of the Cold War?

Read the full chapter on RAND's website.

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