Force Requirements vs. Capabilities: United States Strategic Nuclear Policy in Transition, 1981-2001

Date of Graduation

Summer 2002


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

William Van Cleave


United States' strategic nuclear policy has long been at the center of debate over military and foreign policy. The awesome power of strategic nuclear weapons (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles, and long-range manned bombers) and the possibility of massive damage and casualties remain the single greatest threat to United States national security. Nuclear use policies and force requirements are carefully crafted by the President and his advisors to contribute to the accomplishment of the overall goals and missions of United States' foreign policy. Strategic nuclear policies and force requirements, no matter how carefully and throughtfully crafted, do not always match the United States' real-world capabilities or the capabilities of its potential enemies. When this occurs, the dichotomy between policy requirements and capabilities can cause a dangerous level of instability that could, under the wrong conditions, result in a damaging and costly war. This thesis examines the relationship between strategic nuclear policy requirements and capabilities during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations and the impact of these policies on the United States overall security posture.

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Trevor Paul Pyle