Go to Home Page

:: Nuclear Weapons History Cold War Strategy Counterforce and Countervalue

Counterforce and Countervalue

Debates of counter-value and counter-force strategies occurred as a conceptual differentiation of Flexible Response . In considerations of Countervalue and Counterforce Strategies targets were divided into two categories. The Countervalue Strategy targets the population of the opponent, while the Counterforce Strategy targets the opponent's military-industrial infra-structure. The idea was that counterforce targeting could give the adversary the incentive to not strike American cities. Countervalue was, however, thought of as the true deterrence which would be accomplished with a secure second-strike capability (assured destruction).

In combination with the Triad Doctrine different strategic forces would be assigned different

Printer Friendly

targeting options and goals, as follows:

Strategy Force Goal
Countervalue SLBMs assured destruction
counterforce bombers and ICBMs damage limitation: offensive

Over time even McNamara came to think that deterring an attack would be more important than limiting the damage. At the end of the Kennedy administration, MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction was beginning to emerge.

Interesting Links
Nuclear Attack Simulator

Sources : John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment : A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security (Oxford University Press, 1982).