The Evolving U.S. Nuclear Narrative
November 1, 2016
Managing and operating the nation’s nuclear weapons, forces, and delivery systems is an enormous responsibility and among the most demanding of military missions. The men and women responsible for executing that mission—for acting as the custodians of the nuclear arsenal of the United States—must perform difficult and sometimes tedious tasks in highly challenging environments and under demanding expectations. They do so amid a changing “nuclear landscape” that has, since the end of the Cold War, seen the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy decline as the concept of deterrence has become increasingly abstract in the twenty-first century.
Over the last few years, many observers, including key Department of Defense officials, have commented on the need to better communicate to the nuclear personnel a more compelling rationale as to why the U.S. nuclear arsenal remains essential to the post–Cold War strategy of the United States and to the security of the American people. Those airmen and sailors who comprise the nuclear workforce, and who are asked to dedicate their lives in service of their mission, deserve a persuasive explanation as to why their unwavering stewardship of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will matter as long as these weapons exist in the world. In the assessment of some, a coherent narrative about the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons has not been sufficiently stated and promulgated across the force.
Such concerns led to this study, which seeks not only to track the historical narrative for U.S. nuclear weapons as it has changed over the years, but to also articulate a simple and clear rationale for the U.S. nuclear arsenal that speaks to the U.S. Air Force and Navy forces responsible for supporting and executing the U.S. nuclear mission every day.