Decapitation strike

In the theory of nuclear warfare, a decapitation strike is a first strike attack that aims to remove the command and control mechanisms of an opponent[1] in the hope that it will severely degrade or destroy its capacity for nuclear retaliation. It is essentially a subset of a counterforce strike but whereas a counterforce strike seeks to destroy weapons directly, a decapitation strike is designed to remove an enemy's ability to use its weapons.

Strategies against decapitation strikes include the following:

A failed decapitation strike carries the risk of immediate, massive retaliation by the targeted opponent. Many countries with nuclear weapons specifically plan to prevent decapitation strikes by employing second-strike capabilities. Such countries may have mobile land-based launch, sea launch, air launch, and underground ballistic missile launch facilities so that a nuclear launch on one area of the country will not totally negate its ability to retaliate.

Other nuclear warfare doctrines explicitly exclude decapitation strikes on the basis that it is better to preserve the adversary's command and control structures so that a single authority remains that is capable of negotiating a surrender or ceasefire.

Implementing fail-deadly mechanisms can be a way to deter decapitation strikes and respond to successful decapitation strikes.

Non-nuclear use

The term "decapitation strike" has been used analogously to describe the assassination of entire leadership cadres through conventional warfare means, like car bombings and terrorist attacks.

In fiction

See also


  1. "Words of Intelligence: An Intelligence Professional's Lexicon for Domestic and Foreign Threats", Jan Goldman. Scarecrow Press, Jun 16, 2011. ISBN 0-8108-7814-3, ISBN 978-0-8108-7814-3
  2. Documents on Predelegation of Authority for Nuclear Weapons Use |
  3. Blinka, David S. (2008). Re-creating Armenia: America and the memory of the Armenian genocide. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 31. In what scholars commonly refer to as the decapitation strike on April 24, 1915...
  4. Bloxham, Donald (2005). The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. Oxford University Press. p. 70. ...the decapitation of the Armenian nation with the series of mass arrests that began on 24 April...
  5. "U.S. Launches 'Decapitation' Strike Against Iraq; Saddam Personally Targeted". Fox News Channel. 20 March 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  6. "Cruise missiles target Saddam". CNN. 20 March 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  7. "Airstrikes on Iraqi leaders 'abject failure'". New York Times News Service. 13 June 2004. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
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