Nuclear Policy News - May 23, 2012
This article is composed of several parts. The first is a brief overview of Lieber and Press’s model of a counterforce nuclear strike on Russia and their assumptions. This includes an assessment of the key features of the US-Russian strategic balance that have shifted since their article’s publication in 2006, and the (sizeable) limitations of their analysis. Second, I adapt Lieber and Press’s model for the current force deployments as the two nations bring their arsenal into compliance with New START, as their original plan is no longer possible. Third, I assess the likelihood of a successful first strike under this modified version of Lieber and Press’s model. My analysis shows that reducing the number of weapons assigned to each target dramatically increases the likelihood of target survival and, in my view, confirms that the United States no longer possesses nuclear primacy (and perhaps never did, but that is a separate question). Sensitivity analysis amplifies these concerns. Even after making dramatic accuracy improvements, the odds of a target surviving remain far too high to claim that the United States has achieved nuclear primacy or that it will be within reach for the foreseeable future. Finally, I conclude with some remarks on the desirability of nuclear primacy.