First strike

From Academic Kids

In nuclear strategy, 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. The preferred methodology is to attack the opponent's launch facilities and storage depots first, in an overwhelming surprise attack -- hence the name.



One reason that critics oppose missile defense systems, such as Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, is that they view them as undermining one of the fundamental premises of mutual assured destruction: the proposed defense systems, intended to lessen the risk of devastating nuclear war, would lead to it, according to critics.

The non-missile defense side, seeing that a nation was building a defense against a first strike and believing that the other could launch a first strike if it dared, would then launch a pre-emptive first strike while they still had a chance. The reasoning behind this is the claim that mutual destruction is better than defeat.


First-strike attack, that is, the use of a first strike capability, was greatly feared during the Cold War. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War the Soviet Union feared the United States would use its nuclear superiority to devastate the motherland. In fact, NATO later explicitly ruled out a first-strike posture - a pledge not matched by the Soviets. At various points of the Cold War, fear of a first strike attack existed on both sides. Misunderstood changes in posture and well understood change in technology used by either side were usually fuel on the fire of speculation regarding the enemy's intentions.

In the 1940s the US enjoyed a monopoly of nuclear forces, while in the late 1950s and early 1960s Khrushchev incautiously and inaccurately boasted of a Soviet superiority in missile forces. The arrival of Soviet missiles in Cuba was meant to weaken the US as it exposed the homeland to attack almost without warning, but instead exposed Khrushchev to personal humiliation as the "Cuban Missile Crisis" resulted in him backing down rather than risk war. During the crisis, Fidel Castro wrote Nikita Khrushchev a letter about the prospect that the United States might follow an invasion of Cuba with a first strike against the USSR. The following quotation from the letter suggests to some writers that Castro was calling for a Soviet first strike against the US.

"... the Soviet Union must never allow circumstances in which the imperialists could carry out a nuclear first strike against it." [1] (

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the decision of NATO to deploy new intermediate nuclear forces through Cruise and Pershing missiles (along with Ronald Reagan's talk of 'limited' nuclear war) increased Soviet fears that Nato was planning an attack.

In fact Soviet military theory was dominated by the theory of the "deep operation" - a large scale armoured offensive into enemy-held territory - rather than a nuclear offensive. Soviet "conventional" superiority and the fact that the Soviet Union certainly considered the deep operation as a potential first strike weapon in a time of increased tension, increased Nato reliance on nuclear weapons.

Although neither side was actively pursuing a first-strike policy (since the time of Khrushchev the leaders of orthodox communism believed that "peaceful coexistence" with the "imperialist" powers was possible) both sides relied on military strategies that could have still caused a general nuclear war.

See also

External links



Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools