in his 1986 book, The Cycles of American History, that nuclear weapons "introduce a qualitatively new factor into the historical process. For the first time in the life of humanity the crack of doom becomes a realistic possibility." 1 Schlesinger was referring, of course, to the threat of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange. At least in terms of old scenarios of crisis confrontations, that threat may now be receding, but nevertheless, the threat remains--in the eyes of some even more disturbingly so in light of a diffusion of control in Central Eurasia. At the same time, the fuses of mass destruction are being spread almost unpredictably elsewhere, into environments less subject to the reins of mutual restraint--and less subject, for that matter, to the broader (and in many respects stabilizing) effects of the traditional superpower standoff.
This chapter began with a reference to the uncertainties that faced a U.S. military planner following the Vietnam war. Those uncertainties were great, and they were attended at the time by the prospect of shrinking defense budgets. Still, they were bounded by a framework of explicit strategy, the strategy of "containment," and by a broad national consensus that served to cushion any truly precipitous decline in the means to effect that strategy. Today's planner can no longer look to an explicit, stable framework of national strategy, nor can he confidently look to available means. He faced the task, if you will, of drawing up a comprehensive national insurance policy against multiple and largely unpredictable risks, without assurance that the premiums will be paid. It is an unenviable task, but it must be carried forward.