Resolved: The United States should adopt a declaratory nuclear policy of no first use (Nuclear Weapons Vocabulary)

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“No first use” is a phrase that means a nation pledges not to be the first one to employ such weapons in a conflict.  (Glossary of Nuclear Terms)

Accidental war. An accidental war is a war that starts on accident. For example, the US may mistake a flock of geese for incoming Russian nuclear missiles and return fire.

Allies.  Allies are countries that share mutually security interests. In some instances, allies have treaties with each other that mutually obligate them to defend each other in the case of an attack.

Allied prolif. Allied prolif refers to the idea of US allies getting nuclear weapons as a result of declining US security commitments.

Arms control.  Arms control refers to the voluntary limitation or reduction of weapons and their means of delivery, between and among countries, through negotiation. It is distinct from disarmament, which seeks to eliminate, also by international agreement, the means by which countries wage war. (Atomic Archive). Measures, typically bilateral or multilateral, taken to control or reduce weapon systems or armed forces. Such limitations or reductions are typically taken to increase stability between countries, reducing the likelihood or intensity of an arms race.  They might affect the size, type, configuration, production, or performance characteristics of a weapon system, or the size, organization, equipment, deployment, or employment of armed forces. (Nuclear Threat Initiative)

Ballistic missile. A missile that is lifted into space by a booster rocket and then descends toward its target in a free falling ballistic trajectory. (Atomic Archive)

Calculated ambiguity. Calculated ambiguity refers to the idea that the circumstances under which people would use nuclear weapons are ambiguous. This ambiguity arguably enhances deterrence by making discouraging adversaries from taking risks.

Conventional weapon. A conventional explosive device rapidly burns up a chemical to cause a blast. A nuclear weapon, meanwhile — such as a bomb or warhead — splits atoms to release millions of times more energy than chemical reactions. (Business Insider)

Counterforce targeting. Counterforce targeting refers to targeting another country’s nuclear forces and the infrastructure, including the industry that supports it.

Countervalue targeting. Countervalue targeting refers to targeting the populations of other countries for the purpose of creating general deterrence.

Cruise missile. A pilotless, jet propelled guided missile. Cruise missiles may be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads and launched from either aircraft, submarines, or land-based platforms. (Atomic Archive)

De-alert. The US currently keeps its nuclear weapons on a high state of alert, ready to launched within 15 minutes (Waging Peace)

De-alerting the weapons refers to the idea reducing the alert level of the nuclear forces by actions such as taking the nuclear warheads off of the missiles.  This de-mating of the weapons from the warheads makes it unlikely that a country could launch a first strike and reduces that chance that a poor decision is made during a nuclear crisis

Deterrence.  The ability to convince a potential aggressor that the consequences of coercion and/or armed conflict would outweigh the potential gains. (NATO Nuclear Terms)

Dirty bomb. A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive such as dynamite, filled with deadly radioactive particles which scatter when the bomb goes off. Known as a radiological weapon, a dirty bomb’s initial conventional explosion kills or injures people, and then spreads radiation — hence the term “dirty. Such bombs could be miniature devices or be as big as a truck. (Atomic Archive)

Dismantlement. Disassembling a weapons system to its component parts.

Extended deterrence. Extended deterrence refers to the idea that the US extends its deterrent capabilities to deter an attack on the homelands of our allies. In other words, if a country attacked one of our allies, we might respond to that attack with nuclear weapons.

First strike. A first strike is  surprise attack to considerably weaken or destroy an adversary’s military installations or nuclear forces and thus severely reduce its ability to attack or retaliate.

High alert. The US and Russia both have many nuclear weapons on high alert., which means the weapons are ready to be launched in no less than 15 minutes. Many of the weapons are ready to launch in 3 minutes or less. ICBMS that can launch that quickly are called “Minutemen.”

Launch on Warning (LOW).  LOW means countries launch their nuclear weapons before their adversary’s weapon detonates on their territory. This policy exists to ensure the survival of a retaliatory second strike capability. “Under LoW policy, the 30 minute (or less) flight time of ballistic missiles dictates that only a few minutes are available to evaluate Early Warning System data and act upon it before the arrival of incoming nuclear warheads. If the attack warning is accepted as accurate, top U.S. or Russian military commanders would contact their President to advise him, and the president would then be allowed only a few minutes to decide whether or not to launch a nuclear retaliatory strike – before the perceived attack arrives.”

Low Yield nuclear weapons. “Generally refers to simple fission weapons, first described as “atomic bombs”, which have a nominal explosive power of about 15 kilotons, roughly the size of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are the type of weapons which would be made by emerging nuclear weapon states such as India and Pakistan or by terrorists (using Highly Enriched Uranium).”  Waging Peace

Miscalculated war. Miscalculated wars occur when one side wrongly calculates the likely response of another country to its military moves. You can read here about the different miscalculations that almost triggered a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Negative Security Assurance (NSA). A NSA is a  promise by a state not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against another state. .  (Glossary of Nuclear Terms)

Nuclear football. The nuclear football is the brief case that a military officer carries around in the vicinity of the President in case he needs to make a decision to launch nuclear weapons.

Nuclear posture. A term commonly used in NATO to refer to nuclear forces and related subjects such as numbers, types, locations of nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems, as well as their operational status, including delivery-system readiness levels and weapon-storage locations. NATO Nuclear Terms)

Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear weapons to countries that do not already have them. Nuclear non-proliferation refers to efforts to stop the additional countries from building nuclear weapons.

Nuclear umbrella. The nuclear umbrella refers  guarantees by  nuclear-weapon states to extend assurance of nuclear deterrence to non-nuclear allies and friends.  (Glossary of Nuclear Terms)

Nuclear triad. The nuclear triad means the US has nuclear weapons on land (ICBMS), in the air (on bombers) and under water (on submarines). The US sustains a triad so that if one part of the triad is attacked we could retaliate with weapons from the other part of the triad.  More at

Nuclear missile. A nuclear missile is a missile that has a nuclear warhead attached to it.

Nuclear warhead. The warhead is the explosive device that is either attached to a missile or dropped from an airplane.

Nuclear weapon.  A Nuclear weapon is a device designed to release energy in an explosive manner as a result of nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, or a combination of the two processes. Fission weapons are commonly referred to as atomic bombs. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ). A NWFZ is an area of the world where multiple countries agree not to have nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons states. The countries that currently have nuclear weapons are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom the United States, India, Pakistan, and North Korea

Opaque proliferation. Opaque proliferation occurs when countries are known nuclear weapons but do not actively disclose those weapons. For example, Israel is thought to have nuclear weapons but has not disclosed the existence of those weapons.

Second strike. Second strike refers to the idea that if a country was attacked that they could then retaliate. The ability to retaliate is arguably critical to deterrence.

Security guarantee. A security guarantee is given by one country to another country to say that if the country is attacked by another country that the country extending the guarantee will defend it.

Silo.  The silo refers to the underground tube the nuclear missile and warhead is stored in.

Sole Purpose.  Sole Purpose advocates argue that the US should declare that the Sole Purpose of nuclear weapons is to respond to the use of other nuclear weapons.

Strategic nuclear weapons. A strategic nuclear weapon refers to a nuclear weapon that is designed to be used on targets often in settled territory far from the battlefield as part of a strategic plan, such as military bases, military command centers, arms industries, transportation, economic, and energy infrastructure, and heavily populated areas such as cities and towns, which often contain such targets.. Strategic nuclear weapons generally have significantly larger yields (Wikipedia).  Both the US and Russia each have 2500-3500 active strategic nuclear weapons.

Waging Peace:

U.S. land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles = 1050 strategic nuclear warheads
4 U.S. Trident submarines kept at “hard alert”, carrying a total of 600 high-yield warheads
Russian land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles = 1843 strategic nuclear warheads
Russian nuclear subs in port (virtually all year) carrying a total of 624 high-yield warheads

Tactical nuclear weapon. A tactical nuclear weapon, which is designed for use in battle as part of an attack with and often near friendly conventional forces, possibly on contested friendly territory. (Wikipedia).


CBW. Chemical and biological weapons

CTBT. This international treaty prohibits all nuclear explosions. The treaty establishes the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) to verify compliance with the treaty through a global monitoring system once it enters into force. (Atomic Archive). Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): Bans nuclear explosions in all environments for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996 but cannot enter into force until ratified by 44 designated countries. Of these 44, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have not signed, and China, the United States, Israel, Egypt, Iran and Indonesia have not ratified it. For more than a decade, the United States has reaffirmed its unilateral moratorium against testing. Although the United States signed the accord, the U.S. Senate voted 48 for and 51 against consent to ratification. (Glossary of Nuclear Terms)

IAEA. The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency. One of its missions is to limit the spread of nuclear technology in order to prevent nuclear proliferation.

ICBM. An ICBM is an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. These missiles are stored underground and can be launched from the US to hit targets on the other side of the world (on another continent).  “Technically speaking, an ICBM is any missile capable of delivering one or more warheads from more than 3,415 miles away. The missile silos in the US in which they’re stored are sprinkled around the country, with most stationed in middle America.”  (Business Insider)

As of 2018, the US has about 400 ICBMs with warheads and 400 more missile-ready warheads in storage, while Russia has 318 ready-to-launch ICBMs and 1,138 total missile warheads (some missiles carry more than one).

MAD. Mutually assured destruction. This is the idea that if one country attacks with nuclear weapons that the other country would retaliate with nuclear weapons, ensuring the destruction of both countries.

MIRV.  A MIRV is a multiple independent reentry vehicle. MIRVs have multiple warheads on a single ballistic missile. After the missile gets close to the target, the warheads separate and detonate on different targets.

NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established on April 4, 1949, by representatives from 12 nations (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States; Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955, and Spain in 1982) who gathered in Washington, D.C., to sign the North Atlantic Treaty, which had as its purpose the deterring of potential Soviet aggression in Europe.  Today, NATO continues to function as a deterrent to Russian aggression and it also performs other security support operations.  (Atomic Archive)

NC3(I). NC3(I) refers to nuclear command, control, and communication. It is basically the systems we have for monitoring and controlling our nuclear forces. The (I), which is often also used, refers to the intelligence collected to support nuclear decision-making.

NPT. The NPT is the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was designed around an agreement that the nuclear powers would move toward nuclear disarmament in exchange for countries that do not have nuclear weapons making a decisions not to acquire them.

PALS. Permissive Action Links, or PALS, are systems that make it impossible to activate the weapon without proper authorization. These are electronic devices that prevent the activation or arming of the weapon unless the correct codes are inserted into it. Typically two codes should be inserted, simultaneously or close together. The codes are usually changed regularl

SLBMS. SLBMS are Sea Launched Ballistice Missiles. “An SLBM is a nuclear-tipped rocket that shoots out of launch tubes in an underwater attack submarine. As of 2018, the US has 1,920 SLBMs in its stockpile, and Russia has nearly 770 SLBMs. Unlike most land-based missiles, SLBMs are mobile and very difficult to track. Some models can fly nearly 7,500 miles, which is about 30% of Earth’s circumference.” (Business Insider).

SSBN. “Attack submarines that can launch ballistic missiles are known as SSBs or SSBNs. The “SS” stands for “submersible ship,” the “B” for ballistic” (as in ballistic missile), and the “N,” if present, means “nuclear” (as in powered by a nuclear reactor). These vessels can stay underwater for 90 days and carry more than a dozen nuclear-warhead-tipped SLBMs — each of which can strike targets thousands of miles inland. Russia has about 11 nuclear-armed subs and the US has about 14.” (Business Insider)

WMDs. WMDs are any weapon of mass destruction but such weapons generally are considered to be nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

Bibliography/Additional References

An Explanation of Nuclear Weapons Terminology
NATO-Russia Nuclear Terms

Glossary of Nuclear Terms