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Broken-Backed War Theory

Broken-Backed War Theory is a concept used to describe a form of conflict that could potentially transpire after a massive nuclear exchange. Assuming that following a nuclear exchange all the participants have not been utterly annihilated, there may arise a scenario unique to military strategy and theory, one in which all or some of the parties involved strive to continue fighting until the other side is decisively defeated.

The Theory

Origin of the Phrase

Broken-Backed War Theory was first formally elaborated on in the 1952 British Defence White Paper, to describe what would presumably happen after a massive nuclear exchange.[1][2]The American "New Look Strategy of 1953/54" utterly rejected the notion of Broken-Backed war. They dropped the term from the 1955 white paper, and the phrase has since faded from common usage.[3]

Notable Commentary

Dr. Klaus Knorr purported, that in a broken-backed war scenario, only military weapons and vehicles on hand prior to the sustained hostilities would be of use, as the economic potential of both sides would be, at least in theory, utterly shattered.

Herman Kahn in his tome On Thermonuclear War, has posited that a broken-backed war is implausible, simply because one side would likely absorb vastly more damage than its opposition. As he was writing in the late 1950s, when the nuclear arsenals of the Soviet Union and the United States numbered in the tens of thousands, the validity of this statement in the modern war can be called into question.


The famed nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie argued that this form of conflict may not be practical simply because it is almost impossible to plan for.[6]

During the Cold War, Colonel Virgil Ney hypothesized that a nuclear exchange alone would not be enough to defeat the Soviet Union, and he argued for a modest construction of underground facilities and infrastructure.[7]

In Popular Culture

In the novel, Final Blackout by L. Ron Hubbard, the conflict between the survivors of London and the United States has been characterized as a Broken-Backed War by some critics.


  1. ^ Redford, Duncan; Grove, Philip (29 May 2014). The Royal Navy: A History Since 1900 (A History of the Royal Navy). I. B. Tauris. p. 230. ISBN 978-1780767826. 
  2. ^ A book on British military strategy.
  3. ^ Zellen, Barry Scott (December 2011). State of Doom: Bernard Brodie, The Bomb, and the Birth of the Bipolar World. Continuum. p. 109. ISBN 9781441161345. 
  4. ^ [1]Klaus E. Knorr, The Concept of Economic Potential for War, 1957
  5. ^ On Thermonuclear War
  6. ^ Bernard Brodie, Strategy in the Missile Age
  7. ^