Prompt Global Strike and Nuclear Arms Control

11.10.10 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“Prompt global strike” refers to the possibility of destroying a target anywhere on Earth within minutes or hours using bombers, cruise missiles or ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads. The prompt global strike mission and its various implications were examined in a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

Some argue that a conventional global strike capability could permit reduced U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons without diminishing deterrence.  Others say that it would be destabilizing, especially since conventionally-armed ballistic missiles in flight would be indistinguishable from nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and could therefore be easily misinterpreted as a nuclear strike.

Under the terms of the New START Treaty between Russia and the U.S., which is awaiting Senate consideration, conventionally-armed ballistic missiles would be permitted, despite initial opposition from Russia during negotiations.  However, such missiles would still be counted along with nuclear-armed missiles under the Treaty’s limits on deployed delivery systems. All of these issues and more were carefully sorted out by CRS analyst Amy F. Woolf in “Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues,” October 25, 2010.

The Congressional Research Service does not permit direct public access to its publications.