Evolution of American Nuclear Doctrine


If we want to understand the risk of nuclear war, one place to begin is by examining changes in nuclear doctrines over time. Goldblat (2002) writes, “Military doctrines describe the conditions under which force may be used and provide general guidelines for the structuring of armed forces. Nuclear doctrines define the role of nuclear weapons in both deterring and waging nuclear war. …[T]hese doctrines largely determine the decisions of policy makers with regard to the acquisition, deployment, targeting, and use of nuclear weapons” (69).


Type a brief essay on the evolution of US nuclear doctrine and its implications by following the steps below. Please double-space your essay, and be sure to cite any sources used, even assigned course readings. Try to avoid direct quotes in favor of genuine paraphrase or explanation of what an author’s analysis means.

A. Historically, what factors have caused changes in American nuclear doctrine? To determine this, undertake the following steps.

  1. List from five to eight changes in US nuclear doctrine discussed in the assigned readings provided. 
  2. For each such change, answer the simple question, “Why?” That is, what caused each change in nuclear doctrine? 
  3. Follow your analysis with a paragraph that summarizes the common factors that seem to have determined these changes in American nuclear doctrine. 

B. Conclude with a final paragraph extrapolating these factors to new nuclear nations like Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and perhaps one day Iran. Do you think new nuclear powers’ doctrines will be shaped by the same factors as American nuclear doctrine – which may imply they can be deterred from offensive nuclear use – or are different factors required to explain the policies that will be adopted by these countries?

C. Finally, write an introduction to the paper that lists the changes you’ll be addressing and that provides your thesis about what factors shaped American nuclear doctrine from the early 1940s to the present.