Karren, Wade S., Air & Space Power Journal
The Bedrock of Deterrence and America's Strategic Advantage
Let us, therefore, beware of being lulled in to a dangerous security The expenses required to prevent a war, are much lighter than those that will, if not prevented, be absolutely necessary to maintain it
- Benjamin Franklin, 13 May 1784
Long-range strike (LRS) and the often-associated phrase strategic attack are perhaps the most discussed but least understood terms in current military use.1 Despite, or perhaps because of, numerous definitions and formulations, we tend to overlook the real value of LRS capabilities in the minor details of numerous acquisition plans and concepts of operations. Many components comprise America's power to influence. Yet its ability to project conventional and nuclear military power across the globe at a time and place of our choosing represents the influential backstop for other US instruments of power. The latent threat of violence supported by a credible capability to hold an enemy's most valued resources at risk with little notice or chance for defense gives LRS its ultimate strategic value. Similarly, nations that maintain a robust LRS historically retain a strategic advantage against peer or near-peer state actors. Although the platform, plan, or strategy may change, the purpose of LRS remains the same- to undergird political will by demonstrating credible, flexible, survivable, and visible military power. If the United States wishes to maintain a strategic advantage across the globe, it should heed lessons learned by past global powers and place capable LRS among the highest priorities for development, investment, and modernization- even in a fiscally constrained environment.
Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, and Henri Jomini all agreed that military strategy seeks to meet national objectives through the use of armed force in conjunction with all other available means- often described as instruments of power. Contemporary military theorists also concur with the premise that the use of armed force to attain national objectives still applies, even after increased globalization and the rapid development of technology. In his highly regarded work Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control, Adm J. C. Wylie posited that "the aim of war is some measure of control over the enemy," which can be "direct, indirect, subtle, passive, partial or complete."2 Wylie makes two important points regarding military power- it must effectively exert some level of control over the enemy system, but one need not necessarily use it to exert control. In fact, the most effective control from LRS may come from weapons never physically employed against an enemy- specifically, nuclear weapons. Thomas Schelling echoes this conviction in his book Arms and Influence: "It is the threat of damage, or of more damage to come, that can make someone yield or comply. It is latent violence that can influence someone's choice. ... It is the expectation of more violence that gets the wanted behavior, if the power to hurt can get it at all" (emphasis in original).3 The more credible our capability to impose unacceptable damage or hinder an enemy's critical interests, the greater our power to control his actions, even if military power is never independently sufficient to guarantee the results we desire.
Bernard Brodie, the father of modern strategic studies, speculated in The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order that the introduction of nuclear LRS changed the character of warfare forever: "Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them."4 The deterrent effect of the force inherent in LRS assets can be much greater than the actual destructive effects. For instance, our bomber force might have destroyed any worthwhile target in Korea and Vietnam, but the tactical and operational results proved insignificant compared to the strategic advantage gained by an LRS nuclear deterrent. …