The 1970s saw the previously dominant U.S. nuclear arsenal diminished by a steadily increasing Soviet nuclear capability, which caused many U.S. national security policymakers to question some Flexible Response tenets. One of these policymakers was James Schlesinger, who became President Nixon’s Secretary of Defense in 1973. Recognizing that the United States no longer enjoyed nuclear superiority over the Soviets and that the Soviets now possessed an invulnerable second-strike force, Schlesinger realized that U.S. enemies would not see MAD as employable.
He urged the United States to obtain more selective targeting options that were less likely to involve major mass destruction; maintain a capability to deter an enemy’s desire to inflict mass destruction on the United States and its allies; and reduce U.S. targeting to enemy military targets in order to reduce potential counterattacks against U.S. cities. This new U.S. nuclear strategy, known as the Schlesinger Doctrine, was articulated on January 17, 1974 in National Security Council Decision Memorandum (NSDM) 242. Key NSDM 242 elements included the U.S. National Command Authority (NCA) having multiple nuclear weapons use choices and the option to escalate; an explicit U.S. targeting policy focused on selective retaliation against the enemy’s military or targeted counterforce; and withholding strikes against some enemy targets and target classes so that opponents had a rational reason to terminate conflict.
The next significant document regarding U.S. nuclear weapons policy doctrine was Presidential Directive (PD) 59. This directive was issued by the Carter Administration in 1980 and stressed the Schlesinger Doctrine’s counterforce modus operandi. Refl ecting the work of Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, PD 59 emphasized continuing the policy of focusing U.S. nuclear targeting on enemy military targets instead of enemy cities as a means of enhancing U.S. nuclear deterrence quality.
PD 59 went on to emphasize the United States’ desire to bargain effectively to terminate a war with the most favorable terms, prevent an enemy from achieving its war aims, effectively deploy U.S. nuclear forces to work with conventional forces, and enhance the quality of U.S. command, control, communications, and intelligence
The Reagan Administration saw the fi rst signifi cant questioning of MAD as a U.S. nuclear doctrinal tenet. This questioning would lead to the 1983 unveiling of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which committed the United States to developing a space-based ballistic missile defense system to protect the United States and its allies from ICBM attacks. Although SDI and the idea of ballistic missile defense remain controversial, they have become an important part of U.S. nuclear doctrine by stressing the critical importance of developing effective defenses against nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction missile attacks against the
United States and its allies.