Pre-emptive nuclear strike

first strikefirst-strikenuclear first strikepreemptive nuclear strikestriking firstfirst usefirst-strike attackLimited first strikenuclear attackpre-emptive
In nuclear strategy, a first strike is a preemptive surprise attack employing overwhelming force.wikipedia
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Cold War

The Cold WarCold War eraCold-War
During the Cold War period, both superpowers, NATO and the Eastern Bloc, built massive nuclear arsenals, aimed, to a large extent, at each other.
Each side had a nuclear strategy that discouraged an attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would lead to the total destruction of the attacker—the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Second strike

second-strikesecond-strike capabilitysecond strike capability
First strike capability is a country's ability to defeat another nuclear power by destroying its arsenal to the point where the attacking country can survive the weakened retaliation while the opposing side is left unable to continue war. Each possesses ballistic missile submarines armed with intercontinental submarine-launched ballistic missiles to ensure a devastating second strike retaliation anywhere in the world.
To have such an ability (and to convince an opponent of its viability) is considered vital in nuclear deterrence, as otherwise the other side might attempt to try to win a nuclear war in one massive first strike against its opponent's own nuclear forces.

Nuclear strategy

nuclear deterrentnuclearnuclear deterrence
In nuclear strategy, a first strike is a preemptive surprise attack employing overwhelming force.
That is, each deterrent force must survive a first strike with sufficient capability to effectively destroy the other country in a second strike.

Mutual assured destruction

mutually assured destructionnuclear deterrentMAD
U.S. President Ronald Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, if it had ever been deployed (and proven successful), would have undermined the fundamental premise of mutual assured destruction (the inevitable outcome of equal and unacceptable destruction for both sides in the event of nuclear war), removing the incentive for the US not to strike first.
Mutual(ly) assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender (see pre-emptive nuclear strike and second strike).

Able Archer 83

Able ArcherNATO exercise in 1983Able Archer" NATO military exercises
This culminated in a war scare that occurred during 1983 due to the inopportune timing of a NATO exercise called Able Archer, which was a simulation of a NATO nuclear attack on the Soviet Union; this exercise happened to occur during a massive Soviet intelligence mobilization called VRYAN, that was designed to discover intentions of NATO to initiate a nuclear first-strike.
This increase in realism, combined with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the anticipated arrival of Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe, led some members of the Soviet Politburo and military to believe that Able Archer 83 was a ruse of war, obscuring preparations for a genuine nuclear first strike.

RYAN

Operation RYANProject RYANVRYAN
This culminated in a war scare that occurred during 1983 due to the inopportune timing of a NATO exercise called Able Archer, which was a simulation of a NATO nuclear attack on the Soviet Union; this exercise happened to occur during a massive Soviet intelligence mobilization called VRYAN, that was designed to discover intentions of NATO to initiate a nuclear first-strike.
Operation RYAN (or RYaN, ) was a Cold War military intelligence program run by the Soviet Union during the early 1980s when they believed the United States was planning for an imminent first strike attack.

Nuclear warfare

nuclear warnuclear attacknuclear
These proposed defense systems, intended to lessen the risk of devastating nuclear war, would lead to it, according to these critics.
A "limited nuclear war" could include targeting military facilities—either as an attempt to pre-emptively cripple the enemy's ability to attack as a defensive measure, or as a prelude to an invasion by conventional forces, as an offensive measure.

Nuclear winter

aftermath of a nuclear warcold weatherCretaceous–Paleogene firestorm debate
However, they were never used, as after a time, leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain realized that global thermonuclear war would not be in either power's interest, as it would probably lead to the destruction of both sides, and possibly nuclear winter or other extinction level events.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara called on the USSR to launch a nuclear first strike against the US in the event of a US invasion of Cuba.

Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Partial Test Ban TreatyNuclear Test Ban TreatyLimited Test Ban Treaty
(The sticking point causing agreement to be unreachable was the SDI Program, just as missile defense continues to be a thorn in the side of the Russians today.) However, progress was made; the INF Treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and the START Treaty could be said to be the result of the change in leaders and leaders' attitudes that the Able Archer/VRYAN crisis facilitated, just as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Partial Test Ban Treaty, as well as U.S.-Soviet détente, were the result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Despite the closeness of the Soviet proposal to earlier Western proposals, the US reversed its position on the provisions and rejected the Soviet offer "in the absence of more general control agreements," including limits on the production of fissionable material and protections against a surprise nuclear strike.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

INF TreatyINFIntermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
(The sticking point causing agreement to be unreachable was the SDI Program, just as missile defense continues to be a thorn in the side of the Russians today.) However, progress was made; the INF Treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and the START Treaty could be said to be the result of the change in leaders and leaders' attitudes that the Able Archer/VRYAN crisis facilitated, just as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Partial Test Ban Treaty, as well as U.S.-Soviet détente, were the result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The SS-20 replaced aging Soviet systems of the SS-4 Sandal and SS-5 Skean, which were seen to pose a limited threat to Western Europe due to their poor accuracy, limited payload (one warhead), lengthy preparation time, difficulty in being concealed, and immobility (thus exposing them to pre-emptive NATO strikes ahead of a planned attack).

BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile

Ground Launched Cruise MissileBGM-109G Gryphonground-launched cruise missile
However, tensions were inflamed again in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 Saber and the SS-18 Satan, and the decision of NATO to deploy the new Pershing II IRBM as well as the Tomahawk Ground Launched Cruise Missile, along with U.S. President Ronald Reagan's talk of 'limited' nuclear war.
Aside from presenting a course of action to NATO commanders in the event of war, it put the Kremlin leaders (in range of the GLCM and possibly the Pershing, even in Moscow) in a position of fearing a decapitating NATO first strike, which could have moved them toward a launch on warning policy as the only way to maintain mutually assured destruction.

Strategic Defense Initiative

Star WarsStrategic Defense Initiative OrganizationSDI
U.S. President Ronald Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, if it had ever been deployed (and proven successful), would have undermined the fundamental premise of mutual assured destruction (the inevitable outcome of equal and unacceptable destruction for both sides in the event of nuclear war), removing the incentive for the US not to strike first. (The sticking point causing agreement to be unreachable was the SDI Program, just as missile defense continues to be a thorn in the side of the Russians today.) However, progress was made; the INF Treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and the START Treaty could be said to be the result of the change in leaders and leaders' attitudes that the Able Archer/VRYAN crisis facilitated, just as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Partial Test Ban Treaty, as well as U.S.-Soviet détente, were the result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 1986 Carl Sagan summarized what he heard Soviet commentators were saying about SDI, with a common argument being that it was equivalent to starting an economic war through a defensive arms race to further cripple the Soviet economy with extra military spending, while another less plausible interpretation was that it served as a disguise for the US wish to initiate a first strike on the Soviet Union.

R-36 (missile)

R-36SS-18R-36M
However, tensions were inflamed again in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 Saber and the SS-18 Satan, and the decision of NATO to deploy the new Pershing II IRBM as well as the Tomahawk Ground Launched Cruise Missile, along with U.S. President Ronald Reagan's talk of 'limited' nuclear war. Though the Minuteman III of the mid-1960s was MIRVed with 3 warheads, heavily MIRVed vehicles threatened to upset the balance; these included the SS-18 Satan which was deployed in 1976, and was considered to threaten Minuteman III silos, which led some neoconservatives to conclude a Soviet first strike was being prepared for. Chairman Yuri Andropov of the Soviet Union had similar, distorted views; he believed that the Western Allies, and the U.S., in particular, were fascist states, whose leaders had territorial designs against the Soviet Motherland on the scale of Napoleon, at the least, and Adolf Hitler, at the worst; in addition, to counter the "fascists", he incited his military-industrial complex to build weapons such as the SS-20 MIRV IRBM and the SS-18 Satan MIRV ICBM, which the NATO powers viewed as an aggressive move towards nuclear armament and caused reaction through development of equivalent or superior weapons systems.
This missile was viewed by certain United States analysts as giving the Soviet Union first strike advantage over the U.S., particularly because of its rapid silo-reload ability, very heavy throw weight and extremely large number of re-entry vehicles.

Nuclear triad

triadstrategic triadavailable
Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), commonly known as "boomers" in the US and "bombers" in the UK, are widely considered the most survivable component of the nuclear triad.
The purpose of having this three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation's nuclear forces in a first-strike attack.

Preemptive war

preemptive strikepre-emptive strikepre-emptive
In nuclear strategy, a first strike is a preemptive surprise attack employing overwhelming force.

LGM-30 Minuteman

MinutemanMinuteman IIIMinuteman missile
Though the Minuteman III of the mid-1960s was MIRVed with 3 warheads, heavily MIRVed vehicles threatened to upset the balance; these included the SS-18 Satan which was deployed in 1976, and was considered to threaten Minuteman III silos, which led some neoconservatives to conclude a Soviet first strike was being prepared for.
If the Soviets were building missiles in the numbers being predicted by the CIA and others within the defense establishment, by as early as 1961 they would have enough to attack all SAC and ICBM bases in the US in a single first strike.

Tactical nuclear weapon

tactical nuclear weaponstacticaltactical nuclear
Soviet conventional superiority, shown by the fact that the Soviet Union certainly was prepared for war in Europe, having massed armored, mechanized, artillery, and air forces poised along the Inner German and Czech borders, led by the dreaded Third Shock Army of the Soviet Union, caused NATO to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons to stop the "steamroller" of the Red Army if they decided to take a drive through the Fulda Gap or an amble through the North German Plain.
The existence and deployment of small, low-yield tactical nuclear warheads could be a dangerous encouragement to forward-basing and pre-emptive nuclear warfare, as nuclear weapons with destructive yields of 10 tons of TNT (e.g., the W54 warhead design) might be used more willingly at times of crisis than warheads with yields of 100 kilotons.

MGM-134 Midgetman

MidgetmanMGM-134 Midgetman missile
In addition, ICBMs can be placed on road or rail-mobile launchers (RT-23 Molodets, RT-2PM2 Topol-M, DF-31, Agni 5, Agni 6, MGM-134 Midgetman), which can then be moved around; as an enemy has nothing fixed to aim at, this increases their survivability.
Fixed silos are inherently vulnerable to attack, and with the increasing accuracy of submarine-launched ballistic missiles there was a growing threat that the Soviet Union could launch large numbers of missiles from off the coast, destroying most of the U.S. ICBM force before it could be used (first strike).

Intercontinental ballistic missile

ICBMintercontinental ballistic missilesICBMs
Chairman Yuri Andropov of the Soviet Union had similar, distorted views; he believed that the Western Allies, and the U.S., in particular, were fascist states, whose leaders had territorial designs against the Soviet Motherland on the scale of Napoleon, at the least, and Adolf Hitler, at the worst; in addition, to counter the "fascists", he incited his military-industrial complex to build weapons such as the SS-20 MIRV IRBM and the SS-18 Satan MIRV ICBM, which the NATO powers viewed as an aggressive move towards nuclear armament and caused reaction through development of equivalent or superior weapons systems.
To resolve this problem the United Kingdom invented the missile silo that protected the missile from a first strike and also hid fuelling operations underground.

Single Integrated Operational Plan

SIOPEmergency War OrderSingle Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP)
They are capable of the full exercise of all available MAOs (Major Attack Options), as well as the full SIOP, in the event of a first strike, or the destruction of the NCA.
JCS proposed in 1947 that the president be authorized to use atomic bombs to prevent a nuclear attack.

Ballistic missile submarine

SSBNfleet ballistic missile submarineballistic missile submarines
Each possesses ballistic missile submarines armed with intercontinental submarine-launched ballistic missiles to ensure a devastating second strike retaliation anywhere in the world.
They can fire missiles thousands of kilometers from their targets, and acoustic quieting makes them difficult to detect (see acoustic signature), thus making them a survivable deterrent in the event of a first strike and a key element of the mutual assured destruction policy of nuclear deterrence.

Decapitation strike

decapitation strikesall superiors have been killed in a first strikealready been destroyed
Unlike a decapitation strike or a countervalue strike, a counterforce strike might result in a potentially more constrained retaliation.
In nuclear warfare theory, a decapitation strike is a pre-emptive first strike attack that aims to destabilize an opponent's military and civil leadership structure in the hope that it will severely degrade or destroy its capacity for nuclear retaliation.

Fail-deadly

But their unique and special capability can be found with their Dead Hand fail-deadly computerized nuclear release system, based at Mount Yamantaw in the Urals.
Fail-deadly operation is an example of second-strike strategy, in that aggressors are discouraged from attempting a first strike attack.

Counterforce

counterforce strikeaiming primarily at its military forcesAttacks against military targets
Unlike a decapitation strike or a countervalue strike, a counterforce strike might result in a potentially more constrained retaliation. The strategy is called counterforce.
The intent of a counterforce strategy (attacking counterforce targets with nuclear weapons) is to do a pre-emptive nuclear strike whose aim is to disarm an adversary by destroying its nuclear weapons before they can be launched.

No first use

no-first-usefirst useNo first strike
NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting NFU policy, arguing that pre-emptive nuclear strike is a key option, in order to have a credible deterrent that could compensate for the overwhelming conventional weapon superiority enjoyed by the Soviet Army in the Eurasian land mass.