Strategic Forces for
Gen. Larry D. Welch, USAF (Ret.)
In theory, of all the U.S. military forces, the strategic nuclear deterrent forces should be the most amenable to an orderly and rational process of force structuring--of defining national objectives and the threat to those objectives, formulating a strategy, and identifying the military tasks, capabilities, and forces required to underwrite the strategy.
In practice, however, the level and composition of U.S. strategic forces are strongly influenced by complex "surrounding issues." These issues include the inherent difficulty of defining and assessing the effectiveness of deterrent strategies, budgetary considerations, arms negotiations, perceptions of adversary intentions, and institutional and individual biases regarding defense priorities. Other subjective factors have come into play, such as persistent questioning of the morality of deterrent strategies, amid a general public antipathy toward nuclear weapons. Finally, there is the factor of prior investment in strategic systems and their long operational life, spanning successions of political leadership, changes in the international situation, and evolutions in strategy.
Therefore, any realistic projection of future U.S. strategic forces must consider both the central rationale for objectives, threat, strategy, task, capability, and forces, along with the political forces that influence them.
One of the main national security goals since the Soviets conducted their first nuclear weapons test in August 1948 has been deterrence of a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. Yet other factors driving the strategy have evolved