A long, long time ago, certain internet people independently made certain claims about a trope that oft appears in comic books and videogames. They said that super soldier programs are stupid, because super soldiers are made obsolete by nuclear weapons. Independent of each other and separated by some gulf of time, Yahtzee and Linkara chose to be vocally wrong. Now, most people probably didn't notice it or didn't care, but I did. I have an interest in military history and I have some understanding of war, but even with my journeyman knowledge their statements seemed dead wrong. As far as war fighting goes, super soldiers would be the bee’s knees, while nukes would just spend their time rusting away in a boomer submarine somewhere. For the super soldier, I'll be mostly relying on the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, because they're really famous and really super. John-117 and Spartans might be more accessible to the common man, but I don't see them spitting acid in anybody's face any time soon.
Another useless nuke
Now, I could make this article very short by name-dropping places. When
people geeks start going on how super soldiers are stupid in a world where nukes exist, you don't even need complete sentences to shatter their argument. "Korea. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Afghanistan again. Iraq" are all conflicts that major nuclear powers didn't exactly win. And that's not even counting French adventures in trying to keep their colonial empire intact or the fact that nuclear bombs didn't deter the plucky military regime of Argentina from making a play for the Falklands islands. And while there were some crazy people (McArthur, I think) who considered glassing at least some of the Koreans and Vietnamese, none of the conflicts saw any nuclear detonations. They didn't even see actual victories, either. Sure, the troops on the ground might have had supremacy, but that only did so much to achieve strategic goals or make the conflicts a major victory. One of the reasons why the Korean war is so eagerly forgotten was that the ending was so anticlimactic in comparison to the recent memory of total victory over azi Germany, that it showed the weakness of Allied powers. Allied powers that were the first ones to the nuke, mind you.
No matter how you cut it, nukes are a shitty weapon. They work OK while they're in their silos and boomers and mobile launchers deterring the enemy from launching theirs. But they don't help you gain and hold ground. They're an extreme political and PR liability to use. No matter what you think about people (especially if you're the kind of person to use "sheeple" unironically) and the world and American imperialism, most people wouldn't be OK with nukes flying. We have gone a long way towards minimizing collateral damage, though it will never be possible to eliminate it completely, because war and conflict are such terribly complicated things. And you know what minimizes casualties, gains and holds ground? Infantry. Until we've come up with some sci-fi level drone and total surveillance of the battlefield crap, you'll need infantry to go out on patrols, get into house-to-house fighting, man outposts and throw candy at children trailing the APCs. And you don't get better infantryman than a super soldier.
And super soldiers hardly get any more super than Space Marines. Their creation endows them with many qualities that are more than welcome in an infantryman. They can sleep four hours a day or go two weeks without a sleep, which is something that most generals can only dream of. They can eat and drink basically anything organic, simplifying the supply chain somewhat - there are "Water Dogs", but there are no Aqua Marines as far as we know. Marines can see further and even possess a degree of natural night vision (cutting down on the need for NCOs not to fuck up while ordering enough NVG batteries). They have selective super hearing that works as natural ear-pro(tection) and lets them suss out enemies even better. They can even smell the enemy, making them really hard to ambush (it's not know whether a Space Marine can locate an IED by smell, but that would be even more awesome). They are superhumanly strong, which is a boon in various combat operations as well as the amount of equipment they can be saddled on, they're tough to the point where hydrostatic shock is the weakness of the enemy, and their wounds scarify immediately. Failing that, they can go into a preserving coma, somewhat cutting down on the need for hasty medevacs. Plus, due to indoctrination and chem gelding, they are not likely to rape, throw puppies on video or shoot civilians out of boredom (though with some chapters the understanding what constitutes a non-combatant can be laxer than with others).
Unfortunately, most Games Workshop writers have a very flimsy understanding of war, and the game rules will never support elite acid spitting operator action
And that is before you take their armor into account or look into some of the more esoteric features, like eating parts of the enemy to gain information or spitting corrosive contact poison. Well disciplined, tireless, inured to environmental factors and better in every human way than the enemy combatant, the Space Marine is a perfect assault trooper or a special forces operator. They already have the elite capacity for taking casualties, they are harder to make into casualties and they can survive wounds better. They can stay in the field almost indefinitely (even power armor seems to pretty much self-sufficient). They will react to combat threats better and faster, which could mean the difference between setting a bullet into the engine of an incoming car and riddling the possibly innocent occupants of what might not be a VBIED with holes. There’s nothing a Space Marine can’t do better, and in the end, their bolters – .75 cal gyrojet (rocket propelled) explosive rounds with dense armor piercing heads – look like the least impressive feature. Not to worry, they would still be super efficient with the tried and true 5.56mm.
Of course they have their own limitations. All super soldiers are hard to produce: both Spartans and Marines have to be taken in very young, which would pose immeasurable problems in our society. And even then, the shortest time needed to produce a Marine is two years (as given in Horus Heresy rulebooks when dealing with the dangerously accelerated creation process of the dangerously lame Iron Warriors). This is a lot of time for an asset that can still be taken out by an RPG or an IED. As such, they are likely too valuable be used on regular patrols or to just hold ground (though they would still be awesome in both of those tasks( - especially when there's a propaganda angle of the enemy using Nephilim or something. They would also have a harder time infiltrating locations unnoticed due to their prodigious size. However, give them an objective that needs to be cleared of enemy presence, and Space Marines will carry the day like no other.
Space Marines would do well if they were striking at the enemy communication and logistics nodes instead of partaking in one last stand after the other.
There's also an another logistical matter, in that we wouldn’t know what to do with Space Marines once we run out of war - how would they adapt to civilian life if they could adapt at all - but inability to deal with the post-war needs of their soldiery is a time-honored tradition for both the US and many other countries, so it's an entirely different issue.
Point is, in today's (and 50-years-ago's) war environment, super soldiers are an entirely desirable option that only has to balance the logistic end (the creation and treatment post war) against the conventional forces. If nothing else, Space Marines would be an invaluable asset in all sorts of city fighting, concentrated assault and black-ops scenarios, augmenting your regular human troops as needed. Meanwhile, nukes would continue to gobble up funding and maintenance with their only role being the prevention of a war that would end all wars... but not winning any conflict smaller than the Apocalypse.