Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ( (c) International Studies Association and Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 09 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

Nuclear strategy involves the production of nuclear weapons for political ends as well as the goals, means, and ways in which they are, or are planned to be, used. The roots of nuclear strategy can be traced to World War II, when nuclear scientists, as well as American and British high-level officials, began thinking about how nuclear weapons could be harnessed. Several ideas then emerged that became central to nuclear strategy, but largely ignored in early postwar American military planning. Aside from war-fighting, the United States’s grand strategy and national security policy soon focused on containment as the way to deal with communism around the world. Containment was politically and intellectually well-suited for emphasizing nuclear deterrence as a means of preventing the Cold War from escalating into war. The theory and resulting strategy was dominated by two problems: the stability problem and the credibility problem. As for actually fighting a nuclear war, strategies include demonstration explosions to curb enemy military actions, preventive and preemptive attacks, and retaliation after being attacked. The design and implementation of nuclear postures and strategies have been beset by numerous deficiencies, such as accidents with nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Fortunately, nuclear strategy did not give rise to what many feared—a self-sustaining security dilemma that made insecurity overwhelming and impossible to dispel.

Keywords: nuclear weapons, nuclear strategy, military planning, national security, containment, nuclear deterrence, Cold War, stability problem, credibility problem, nuclear war

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.