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There are inherent discrepancies between the nuclear declaratory policy and the nuclear employment policy of most countries, and the United States is no exception.
U.S. declaratory policy is what officials say publicly about how nuclear weapons would be used. During the Cold War, official public statements usually suggested that the United States would employ its strategic nuclear arsenal only in retaliation against a Soviet nuclear “first-strike.” But this rationale poses a logical disconnect that suggests an unsettling theory. If the Russians attacked first, there would be little left to hit in retaliating against their nuclear forces, and even less by the time the U.S. “retaliatory” attack arrived at its targets. Many Russian missile silos would be empty, submarines would be at sea, and bombers would be dispersed to airfields or in the air. Ineluctably, the logic of nuclear war planning demands that options exist 14 Natural Resources Defense Councilto fire first. Thus the U.S. President retains a first-strike option, regardless of whether he has any such intention or not. The Soviet Union was faced with a similar dilemma and must have come to similar conclusions. As a consequence, therefore, both sides’ nuclear deterrent strategies have “required” large and highly alert nuclear arsenalsto execute preemptive strike options.