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Title: Countervalue  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Nuclear warfare, Counterforce, Minimal deterrence, Nuclear utilization target selection, Nuclear War
Collection: Civilians in War, Military Strategy, Nuclear Strategies, Nuclear Warfare
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


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 forces and facilities.[1][2] The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., records the first use of the word in 1660 and the first use in the modern sense in 1965, where it is described as a "euphemism for attacking cities".


  • Theory 1
  • International law 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


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, when 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 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.

International law

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. Many strategic military facilities like bomber airfields were located near cities. Command and control centers were located in Moscow, Washington D.C. and other cities.

See also


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