Nuclear utilization target selection (NUTS) is a theory regarding the use of nuclear weapons often contrasted with mutually assured destruction (MAD). NUTS theory at its most basic level asserts that it is possible for a limited nuclear exchange to occur and that nuclear weapons are simply one more rung on the ladder of escalation pioneered by Herman Kahn. This leads to a number of other conclusions regarding the potential uses of and responses to nuclear weapons.
A counterforce strike consists of an attack on enemy nuclear weapons meant to destroy them before they can be utilized. A viable first strike capability would require the ability to launch a 100% effective (or nearly so) counterforce attack. Such an attack is made more difficult by systems such as early warning radars which allow the possibility for rapid recognition and response to a nuclear attack and by systems such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles or road mobile nuclear missiles (such as the Soviet SS-20) which make nuclear weapons harder to locate and target.
Since a limited nuclear war is a viable option for a NUTS theorist, the power to unleash such attacks holds a great deal of appeal. However, establishing such a capability is very expensive. A counterforce weapon requires a much more accurate warhead than a countervalue weapon, as it must be guaranteed to detonate very close to its target, which drastically increases relative costs.
Some NUTS theorists hold that a mutually assured destruction-type deterrent is not credible in cases of a small attack, such as one carried out on a single city, as it is suicidal. In such a case, an overwhelming nuclear response would destroy every enemy city and thus every potential hostage which could be used to influence the attacker's behavior. This would free up the attacker to launch further attacks with and remove any chance for the attacked nation to bargain. A country adhering to a NUTS-style war plan would likely respond to such an attack with a limited attack on one or several enemy cities.
Since NUTS theory assumes the possibility of a winnable nuclear war, the contention of many MAD theorists that missile defense systems should be abandoned as a destabilizing influence is generally not accepted by NUTS theorists. For NUTS theorists, a missile defence system would be a positive force in that it would protect against a limited nuclear attack. Additionally, such a system would increase the odds of success for a counterforce attack by assuring that if some targets escaped the initial attack, the incoming missiles could be intercepted. But protection against a limited attack means that the opponent has incentive to launch a larger scale attack, against which the defence is likely to be effective. And increased possibility of success of counterforce attacks mean that the opponent has to act before their ability to do so is reduced, which increases the risk of a large scale response to misinterpreted signals.
Full article ▸