News | Feb. 25, 2021

Deterring, Countering, and Defeating Conventional-Nuclear Integration

By Justin Anderson and Lt Col James R. McCue, USAF Strategic Studies Quarterly (SSQ)

Photo By: SSQ
VIRIN: 210225-D-QC535-1001

Potential US adversaries have integrated nuclear weapons into their concepts for fighting and winning a future regional conflict. To this end, they have organized, trained, and equipped nuclear-capable forces for theater war fighting. The United States, and its allies, must prepare for adversaries who integrate conventional and nuclear arms to shape the regional battlespace, counter theater defenses, and combat coalition forces. The challenge posed by this conventional-nuclear integration (CNI) cuts across strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare. While CNI is not a new phenomenon, its growth and evolution in recent years is placing increasing pressure on US regional deterrence and defense strategies. To effectively deter this threat requires an integrated, but not mirror-imaged, approach. The goal of US CNI is to convince potential adversaries that integrating conventional and nuclear-capable forces grants insufficient advantages within a future regional conflict to overcome either the latter’s potential vulnerabilities or the risks attendant with attempting to leverage nuclear escalation. Potential adversaries are likely to retain some of these platforms and their associated nuclear weapons as a hedge against uncertainty. However, it is important for the Department of Defense to bolster US and allied deterrence postures in Europe and the Asia-Pacific by taking steps—prior to any regional crisis—to influence their cost-benefit calculus in contemplating the deployment or employment of nuclear weapons in theater. This article proposes a three-part framework using the Department of Defense’s Deterrence Operations – Joint Operating Concept (deny benefits, impose costs, and encourage restraint) to plan and posture for accomplishing this goal.

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