our disagreement is about whether the United States should hold targets in additional categories at risk
the most recent American nuclear war plan to have been even (very) partially declassified dates to 2009 and includes four target categories: “military forces,” “WMD [weapons of mass destruction] infrastructure,” “military and national leadership,” and “war supporting infrastructure.”
I advocate CMI targeting, which is an acronym I came up with to describe holding Conventional Military forces and war-supporting Industry at risk.
The central issue is the arcane subject of nuclear targeting: the question of what facilities the United States should, in the detached language of nuclear strategists, “hold at risk,” or in plain English, threaten to nuke.
America’s current targeting policy is often described as “counterforce.” This term is widely and correctly understood to mean that the United States targets its adversaries’ nuclear forces and nuclear command-and-control capabilities, and widely and incorrectly understood to imply that it does not target other kinds of assets.
he conventional wisdom is that the United States should build-up its nuclear forces so it can target China’s and Russia’s nuclear forces simultaneously.
a study group convened by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory argued that “[a]n increase in the number of targetable Chinese nuclear weapons implies an increase in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons to target them.”
An alternative view, which two colleagues and I recently advanced in Foreign Affairs, is that the United States should abandon targeting nuclear forces, their command-and-control systems, and an adversary’s leadership.
China’s and Russia’s nuclear forces are, and will remain, sufficiently survivable that preemptive strikes on them would not succeed in meaningfully limiting the damage that the United States would suffer in a nuclear war.
As a result, targeting those forces does not enhance deterrence — but it does create serious risks and costs.
In a conventional conflict, Chinese or Russian fears that the United States might launch large-scale attacks on their nuclear forces could induce them to use nuclear weapons first, before those weapons were destroyed.
Such use could be limited and aimed at terrifying the United States into ceasing the conflict rapidly.
Alternatively, the Russian military might launch large-scale preemptive attacks on U.S. nuclear forces (China currently lacks the capabilities to do so but may acquire them).
The result will be a futile and difficult-to-stop three-way arms race that is likely to exacerbate tensions and increase the danger of war.
In sum, enlarging its arsenal will likely make the United States less secure and less solvent
Myth 1: Counterforce targeting would avoid strikes on cities in all circumstances.
Myth 2: The only alternative to counterforce targeting is planning for large-scale strikes against cities.
it is entirely possible to favor counterforce targeting while recognizing that many counterforce targets are in cities and that population targeting is not the only alternative
Myth 1: Counterforce targeting would avoid strikes on cities in all circumstances
Department of Defense’s Nuclear Matters Handbook, which states that “counterforce targeting plans to destroy the military capabilities of an enemy force” and lists nuclear-weapon delivery systems, “command and control centers, and weapons of mass destruction storage facilities” as “typical counterforce targets.”