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After detecting the launch of an attack, the authorization to retaliate must be disseminated and the choice of an attack option made from the available menu before the command system suffers too much damage. Otherwise, target coverage and operational timing could be severely compromised. The high priority given to destroying an opponent's strategic weapons also gives substantial impetus to rapid reaction since these missions must be accomplished before the opposing weapons are launched. The integrated targeting plan itself does not at present contribute to the inclination for rapid retaliation, however, since current strategic forces substantially exceed the numbers required for effective retaliation. There is so much redundancy for the coverage of priority targets that damage sufficient to deter is a statistical near certainty whatever the exact allocation of weapons might be.

As forces are sharply reduced and tailored more closely to the levels believed necessary for deterrence, the details of operational coordination and of allocating warheads to a smaller number of targets become more important. This effect should not and need not be allowed to lead either side to adopt a posture that relies on prompt retaliation for deterrence in order to avoid operating with a damaged control system. The problems associated with more effective allocation of resources after an attack are difficult and this is not the place to discuss them in detail. We simply note that opportunities exist to mitigate the problem, for example, by giving weapons systems a suitable targeting option beforehand. Using statistical procedures for assigning weapons to targets and assuming survival rates appropriate to the particular weapons system concerned, a high degree of confidence that the highest priority targets will be covered can be assured, and operational interference minimized no matter which particular weapons systems escape destruction. ( Appendix C contains a fuller discussion of this point.) This could also be done after an attack has taken place, if the command, control, and communication system is capable of assessing the survival rates, but the returns may not warrant the added complications and risks.


1. B.G. Blair and J.D. Steinbruner, The Effects of Warning on Strategic Stability, Brookings Occasional Paper. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1990.

2. D.R. Cotter, “Peacetime Operations: Security and Safety,” in A.B. Carter, J.D. Steinbruner, and C.A. Zraket, Managing Nuclear Operations. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1987, p. 51-52.

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