Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2011

Conventional Prompt Global Strike: Strategic Asset or Unusable Liability?

M. Elaine Bunn, Vincent A. Manzo

February 2011

Institute for National Strategic Studies


Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) figured prominently in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, and the debate over the New START Treaty. Despite the current and the previous administrations' interest in CPGS, the issue remains divisive. This Strategic Forum examines a number of aspects surrounding CPGS, including the value and usability of CPGS; the relationship between CPGS weapons and the role of nuclear weapons; the ambiguity and misinterpretation risk and how it manifests itself differently with the Conventional Trident and the Conventional Strike Missile; CPGS in the New START Treaty; and CPGS implications for strategic stability with Russia and China. As the world changes and threats evolve, so too must U.S. priorities, policies, and capabilities. Yet there is no consensus on whether and how the United States should modify its strategic offensive capabilities. A long-range missile is a highly effective way to deliver a payload to distant and denied targets. Recognizing this, is it logical to deploy only long-range missiles armed with nuclear warheads? Should the United States preserve its strategic arsenal in precisely the same configuration as it was at the end of the Cold War, albeit in smaller numbers? Or should the United States alter a small portion of its most potent strategic delivery vehicles in response to a spectrum of threats and actors that is more diverse and complex than it was during the Cold War? The answer to the final question is yes: A CPGS capability would be a valuable strategic asset for some fleeting, denied, and difficult-to-reach targets. It would fill a gap in the U.S. conventional strike capability in some circumstances, contribute to a more versatile and credible U.S. strategic posture, and potentially enhance deterrence across a diverse spectrum of threats.