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Weapons of Mass Destruction
Defining Trends
U.S. Security Interests
Key U.S. Security Policy Issues
Throughout the Cold War, the primary concern with weapons of mass destruction focused on the large holdings of nuclear weapons of the Soviet Union and the United States. Considerable debate and deliberation went into the development of an appropriate strategy and force structure to deter a massive attack by the Soviet Union. From 1960 through 1990, close to 15 percent of total U.S. spending on national defense went toward building and maintaining a strategic nuclear posture. While several other nations openly developed nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems, their holdings were a small percentage of those of the two superpowers. Efforts to limit deployed nuclear weapons were almost exclusively conducted in bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

With the end of the Cold War, the situation has changed. British, French, and Chinese nuclear forces are being modernized and may grow in numbers over the next decade. The U.S. and Russia, on the other hand, are reducing their strategic nuclear arsenals to about one third of their holdings in 1990. Russia continues development of new strategic missiles, althougn its progress in modernizing strategic nuclear forces and maintaining the full complement of warheads allowed under START II will be subject to the military obtaining adequate resources. The U.S. is not developing any new nuclear weapons and the last U.S. strategic missile program was cancelled in the early 1990s.

The number of countries capable of obtaining weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--nuclear, biological, and chemical--is growing. Despite several notable successes in impeding and, in some cases, reversing WMD proliferation, the post-Cold War environment is characterized by an increasing number of states with the capability to acquire such weapons and their delivery systems. For this reason, nonproliferation is one of the United States' highest national priorities. Diplomatic reassurance and dissuasion and the strengthening of multilateral control regimes to prevent further proliferation are central components of the administration's security policy.

Given these changes, U.S. policy makers are faced with a new set of challenges. A strategy to deter a nuclear first strike against the U.S. is still critical, but no longer sufficient. As Moscow and Washington implement the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I (START I) and move toward START II levels of nuclear forces, it is necessary to consider the implications of no longer having a force that dwarfs those of medium-sized powers. Moreover, possession of WMD by new regional powers will greatly complicate the United States's ability to deter such countries from aggressive actions, as well as its ability to deploy forces to those regions. The Persian Gulf and Korea are examples of places where weapons of mass destruction in the hands of hostile regimes put U.S. forces at risk in crises or conflicts. Likewise, possession of WMD and the prospects for covert delivery by rogue states or terrorist groups present new security threats to the U.S. homeland.

Strategic Assessment 95 ContentsNext
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