Second strike

Second strike

In nuclear strategy, second strike capability is a country's assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker. To have such an ability (and to convince the opponent of its viability) is considered extremely vital in nuclear deterrence, as otherwise the other side might be tempted to try to win a nuclear war in one massive first strike against the opponent's own nuclear forces.


The possession of second strike capabilities counters a first strike nuclear threat and can support a no first use nuclear strategy.

Reciprocal second strike capabilities usually cause a mutual assured destruction defence strategy, though one side may have a lower level minimal deterrence response.

An example of how second strike capability can be strengthened is the implementation of fail-deadly mechanisms.


The crucial goal in maintaining second strike capabilities is preventing first strike attacks from taking out a nation's nuclear arsenal, allowing for nuclear retaliation to be carried out. The nuclear triad is a way for countries to diversify their nuclear arsenals in order to better ensure second strike capability.

Submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the classic, but very expensive, method of providing a second strike capability, though it needs to be supported by a reliable method of identifying who the attacker is. Using Submarine-launched ballistic missiles as a second strike capability has a serious problem, because in retaliation for a submarine launched ICBM, the wrong country could be targeted, and can cause a conflict to escalate.


As early as 1940, science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote "Solution Unsatisfactory" in which he described a nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union. In one episode, the US cabinet discusses the scenario of a Soviet surprise attack in which American cities would be destroyed, but the US armed forces would survive and launch a counter-attack.

ee also

*Mutual Assured Destruction
*first strike
*nuclear triad

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