Abstract

Senate Hearings on the GAO report on the nuclear triad and on the START treaty showed that vulnerabilities of the U.S. triad were vastly over‐stated, that the performance of new projected strategic systems was over‐estimated, and that the performance of existing U.S. strategic systems was under‐estimated. These exaggerations enhanced the psychological (Freud) aspects of the Cold War and compromised logic (Newton).

With the end of the Cold War it is imperative that we re‐examine the basic premises that guided the choices of the strategic nuclear systems. The initial bottom line is that these systems were successful in that they did deter nuclear war without destroying either or both superpowers. However, now that the emotion of the conflict has passed, the effectiveness of the nuclear triad should be examined to determine how much was enough and which technical conventional wisdoms were incorrect.

As this paper documents, incorrect technical estimates took place. These errors (and/or exaggerations) caused the U.S. to greatly increase the capabilities of its nuclear triad. At a minimum, these errors were fiscally wasteful, and at a maximum they could have endangered the stability between the countries. This paper examines technical aspects of the robustness of the triad, rather than the psychological causes and consequences of worst‐case analysis. When more historical data becomes available, other authors should examine the effects of the U.S. nuclear build up on Soviet behavior (e.g., why Gorbachev was willing to let the Berlin wall fall and reduce the Warsaw Pact forces by 60% without requiring NATO reductions). The technical conclusions of this paper are based on the author's staffing 20 hearings [1] on the START treaty before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing [2] on the General Accounting Office report, The U.S. Nuclear Triad: GAO's Evaluation of the Strategic Modernization Program. The GAO study produced a massive eight volume classified report which, according to the GAO, was the most complete examination of strategic nuclear forces in the past three decades.

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URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/phy_fac/28