offer us the option to respond to nuclear attack with nonnuclear weapons. If we can rely on a proven capability to disarm a nuclear aggressor with conventional strategic weapons, we should not merely retaliate, as eye for eye, or out of anger; we should act with wisdom and a sense of the great responsibility that comes with great power.
In the future, both strategic nuclear weapons and strategic conventional weapons can offer us a tailored deterrence mission. Strategic nuclear weapons may now fulfill a broader, or nonspecific, deterrence mission, poised not against another state but against the threat of nuclear attack upon the United States and its allies by a major nuclear power. Strategic conventional weapons, in the form of a variety of precision-guided munitions and the ships or planes equipped to deliver those munitions, may help create a more specific deterrence against particular emerging threats, once those threats are identified and a strategy to combat them is crafted. In a real sense, the end of the Cold War and the maturing of better conventional weapons have returned deterrence from the further reaches of abstract theory to the fold of practical policy. They encourage us to plan and declare more focused, practical, and credible deterrence policies and provide us the means with which to back them up.
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, as the lessons of the successes, failures, and potential of conventional, strategic, high-precision strategic, smart weapons are digested by all nations, one message should come home most emphatically: the United States, when provoked, can and will use strategic conventional weapons against whatever targets it considers appropriate. A general understanding of this one lesson, at home and abroad, may offer us the first credible and therefore useful strategic deterrent we have seen since the early days of the nuclear era. At the same time, the United States should not squander its credibility by allowing challenges to go unmet and forfeit international leadership in moments of crisis. Unless and until the United States is willing to closely examine its new national interests as well as publicize them, and to take the foreign policy and security measures required to meet those interests, no amount of weapons, no matter how sophisticated, will succeed in deterring aggression.