Decapitation strike

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A decapitation strike is a military strategy aimed at removing the leadership or command and control of a hostile government or group.[1] The strategy of shattering or defeating an enemy by eliminating its military and political leadership has long been utilized in warfare.


In nuclear warfare[edit]

In nuclear warfare theory, a decapitation strike is a pre-emptive first strike attack that aims to destabilize an opponent's military and civil leadership structure[4] 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:

  • Distributed command and control structures.
  • Dispersal of political leadership and military leadership in times of tension.
  • Delegation of ICBM/SLBM launch capability to local commanders in the event of a decapitation strike.[5]
  • Distributed and diverse launch mechanisms.

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.

In conventional warfare[edit]

Decapitation Strike strategy has been employed in conventional warfare.

Additionally, the term has been used to describe the assassination of a government's entire leadership group or a nation's royal family.

In fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wittmann, Anna M. (2017). Talking Conflict: The Loaded Language of Genocide, Political Violence, Terorism, and Warfare. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-4408-3424-0.
  2. ^ 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...
  3. ^
  4. ^ "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
  5. ^ Documents on Predelegation of Authority for Nuclear Weapons Use |
  6. ^ "U.S. Launches 'Decapitation' Strike Against Iraq; Saddam Personally Targeted". Fox News Channel. 20 March 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  7. ^ "Cruise missiles target Saddam". CNN. 20 March 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Airstrikes on Iraqi leaders 'abject failure'". New York Times News Service. 13 June 2004. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  9. ^ Shinkman, Paul D. "Obama: 'Global War on Terror' Is Over". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved April 4, 2017.