In military doctrine countervalue is the targeting of an opponent's assets which are of value but not actually a military threat, such as cities and civilian populations. Counterforce is the targeting of an opponent's military personnel, forces and facilities. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., records first use of the word in 1660, and first use in the modern sense in 1965, where it is described as a "euphemism for attacking cities".
In warfare, and in particular nuclear warfare, enemy targets can be divided into two general types; counterforce military targets and countervalue civilian targets. These terms were not used during the Second World War bombing of civilian populations and targets not directly military.
The rationale behind countervalue targeting is that when two sides have both achieved assured destruction capability—that is, that the nuclear arsenals of each side have the apparent ability to survive a wide range of counterforce attacks, and carry out a second strike in response—then, in an all-out nuclear war, the value of targeting the opponent's nuclear arsenal diminishes, and the value of targeting the opponent's cities and civilians increases. This line of reasoning, however, assumes that the opponent values its civilians over its military forces.
One view argues that countervalue targeting upholds nuclear deterrence because both sides are more likely to believe in each other's no first use policy. The line of reasoning is that if an aggressor strikes first with nuclear weapons against an opponent's countervalue targets, then, by definition, such an attack does not degrade the opponent's military capacity to retaliate.
The opposing view, however, counters that countervalue targeting is neither moral nor credible because if an aggressor should strike first with nuclear weapons against only a limited number of a defender's counterforce military targets, the defender should not retaliate in this situation against the aggressor's civilian populace.
However, another moral position is that because they are the aggressor, and therefore are starting the conflict, they should not be treated with a "gloves on" approach, as that would give further incentive to be an aggressor.
The intentional targeting of civilians with military force, including nuclear weapons, is prohibited by international law. In particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention prevents attacks on certain types of civilian targets and the Protocol I states that civilian objects are not acceptable military targets. (Not all states are party to Protocol I.) Nonetheless, "proportional" collateral damage is allowed, which could justify attacks on military objectives in cities.
- First strike
- Second strike
- Mutually Assured Destruction
- Deterrence theory
- Peace through strength
- Balance of terror
- Balance of power in international relations
- Kristensen, Hans M.; Robert S. Norris, Ivan Oelrich (April 2009). "From Counterforce to Minimal Deterrence: A New Nuclear Policy on the Path Toward Eliminating Nuclear Weapons". Occasional Paper (FEDERATION of AMERICAN SCIENTISTS & THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL) 7. Retrieved 19 September 2010. }
- Corcoran, Edward A. (29 November 2005). "Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 19 September 2010.