The purpose of the Bush administration's new strategic triad is to integrate defenses (i.e., missile defense), nuclear weapons and "non-nuclear strike forces" into a seamless web of capabilities to dissuade and deter adversaries and to fight and win wars if deterrence fails. The NPR notes that the strike elements "...can provide greater flexibility in the design and conduct of military campaigns to defeat opponents decisively. Non-nuclear strike capabilities may be particularly useful to limit collateral damage and conflict escalation. Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapons facilities)." By using the term "triad" to describe this new array of strategic capabilities, the Bush administration also is redefining a central concept borrowed from Cold-War nuclear deterrence. Prior to the Bush administration, the term triad was used to refer to the three legs of the U.S. strategic nuclear force: submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), land based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and long-range bombers. The purpose of maintaining the triad was to complicate Soviet efforts to launch a disarming nuclear attack against the United States: an attack that maximized destruction of land based ICBMs, for example, would not harm SLBMs deployed safely at sea.
Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Contemporary Conflict: http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil
Strategic Insights (May 2002), v.1 no.3