American Cold War policy relied heavily on nuclear deterrence: preventing
attack by threatening the attacker with nuclear annihilation in retaliation.
To be credible, such a policy required certainty that retaliatory forces
could survive. By the 1960s, the United States largely relied on three
distinct forces to deter nuclear attack; each had its own form of protection,
and each alone could deliver devastating destruction. These forces came
to be known as the Strategic Triad:
of Defense estimates the price of Cold War U.S. offensive strategic forces
at $1.26 trillion (in constant 1996 dollars), but explicitly omits many
indirect costs. Adding estimates of $150 billion for research and development
and $570 billion for overhead and support functions would bring the total
price of Cold War strategic nuclear deterrence to almost $2 trillion.
- A fleet of long-range bombers, some of which were always airborne.
- An arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in underground silos.
- A force of sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried on submarines.