Thoughts on the Early History of the Nuclear Triad

In advance of Cato’s Capitol Hill Briefing on Monday, April 30th (details here) I’ve been reviewing some of the earliest arguments in favor of the nuclear weapons triad – the mix of bombers, land-based missiles, and submarine-launched missiles, that have comprised the nation’s nuclear deterrent since the early 1960s. So far, I’ve yet to find a single enthusiastic supporter of all three delivery vehicles, and quite a few cases where people were arguing for just two, or even one. Some of the leading scholars on nuclear weapons, including Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris, and Lawrence Freedman, contend that the triad was a post hoc justification for a force already in being. James Schlesinger, secretary of defense during the Nixon and Ford administrations, once told Congress “To some extent I think the rationale of the Triad was a rationalization.”

Be that as it may, the nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure that was designed for the Cold War era, appears to have been moving on auto-pilot ever since. At next week’s forum, I’ll revisit some of the early arguments against a triad, speculate on why such arguments failed to carry the day at the time, and conclude with some thoughts on why similar arguments might be more effective in the present era. Following my remarks, I am especially looking forward to the comments of Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Russell Rumbaugh, Director of the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense Program. Laura and Russell are two of the leading experts in town on the military budget, in general, and have done some excellent work on the nuclear weapons budget, in particular.

To learn more about this event, or to register, visit the event page.