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The Cold War is frequently described as a nuclear standoff between the only superpowersleft standing after WWII—the United States of America and the Union of Soviet SocialistRepublics (U.S.S.R.).
Nuclear weapons loomed over every aspect of the Cold War, from peacesummits and periods of détente, to conflicts like the Berlin Crisis, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.At the time, both Soviet and American governments believed any direct confrontation betweenthe U.S. and U.S.S.R would necessarily result in a nuclear exchange. In response, Americanstrategists were compelled to find ways of combating the Soviet threat via indirect means. Of allthe methods they developed, no concept was more important than that of nuclear deterrence.Nuclear deterrence was designed to discourage the Soviet Union from initiating an attack bymaking the potential damage inflicted by a retaliatory American nuclear strike too catastrophic torisk.
Responsibility for the American nuclear deterrence arsenal would be distributed amongland-based ICBM sites, intercontinental bomber fleets, and the United States Navy’s submarinefleet in a structure known as the Nuclear Triad.
Of the three segments of the triad, only the submarine fleet would play an active role inthe strategic aspects of deterrence policy. Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN) carried themissiles that comprised the U.S. retaliatory, or second-strike, nuclear arsenal. These boats weredesigned to disappear into the ocean and wait, undetected, until a first-strike nuclear attack occurred and they were activated to retaliate.
Although European NATO member’s involvement in the Cold War was constant and invaluable in the war’soutcome, this paper addresses the actions of only United States organizations and individuals; therefore, for the sakeof clarity, the United States will be the only entity addressed in terms of NATO action.
Due to books like Tom Clancy’s
Hunt for Red October
and controversies over nuclear proliferation, the SSBN’s are considered the
John Pina Craven,
The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea
, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster,2002, p. 53.
Atomic Archive. "Nuclear Deterrence." atomicarchive.com: Exploring the History, Science, and Consequences of the Atomic Bomb. http://atomicarchive.com/History/coldwar/page15.shtml (accessed November 3, 2009).
Submarines are traditionally referred to as boats rather than ships, potentially in homage to the first submarines,which were as small as boats.