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News | April 18, 2019

This Week in DIA History: DIA Analysis Decisive in Driving U.S. Nuclear Policy

By DIA Public Affairs

In July 1983, the Department of Defense called upon DIA to support operational planning for nuclear war, resulting in the release of a new nuclear policy. For much of the Cold War, the plans ultimately settled on a declared deterrence policy – that any attack would be suicidal because it would be met by swift and overwhelming nuclear force. The various target packages focused on the fundamental goal of maximizing damage to the Soviet Union while giving little consideration to a more controlled, targeted nuclear response.

In 1977, the Carter Administration reaffirmed these fundamental targeting goals, but demanded answers to the questions it raised. To formulate a solution, Carter ordered a Nuclear Targeting Policy Review. DIA’s Gordon Negus was an important contributor to the NTPR and spent much of the previous decade examining Soviet efforts to survive a nuclear war. The study concluded that the plan should include more targeting options to increase strategic flexibility and be modified to reflect the political and psychological aspects of nuclear targeting, not just the military component.

Shortly thereafter, the Joint Chiefs requested a targeting reassessment from DIA with the new goal of denying Soviet war objectives. The result was a major study in 1982 by William Lee, who served as a special assistant to Gordon Negus. In the spring of 1982, the Joint Chiefs accepted DIA’s findings and, in July 1983, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger issued a new nuclear weapons employment policy that gave planners the ability to customize target packages based on what they believed Soviet intentions would be in a given scenario. Theoretically, this allowed the U.S. to have greater control over escalation and end a nuclear exchange while decisively defeating the Soviet Union. DIA’s Damage Criteria Study made a flexible, controlled nuclear war a technical possibility and provided the missing piece to the nuclear planning puzzle.