Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


The Nuclear

Disarmament Vision

Throughout the Cold War and post–Cold War years, various

groups and individuals have put forth initiatives for the longterm

elimination of nuclear weapons or their near-term reduction

to small numbers. With the end of the Cold War, many

thoughtful people understandably question why the United

States should continue to maintain nuclear weapons, particularly

if most plausible adversaries can be defeated militarily

with conventional forces alone. The point here is that, on some

occasions, deterrence and assurance will be the priority goals.

Numerous countries—including contemporary opponents and

allies—give every indication that they perceive unique value in

nuclear weapons for those purposes, whether or not US domestic

commentators believe it or want it to be true. Those

perceptions alone create the potential value of nuclear weapons

for deterring opponents and assuring allies.

A common problem with recent and past nuclear disarmament

initiatives is that they emphasize the risks of maintaining

US nuclear capabilities but are silent or wholly superficial in

discussing the risks of their elimination. The postulated benefit

from the United States’ moving toward giving up nuclear capabilities

typically is presented in terms of the contribution such a

move supposedly would make to the goal of nuclear nonproliferation.

60 US steps toward global nuclear disarmament

supposedly will begin the action-reaction process of eliminating

those nuclear threats that justify retaining US nuclear weapons

for deterrence: no such threat, no such need. As I have argued

elsewhere, the traditional balance-of-terror’s simplistic actionreaction

process is utterly inadequate for contemporary strategic

conditions. Whatever the merit of that metaphor for this application,

however, the question of nuclear disarmament must include

a net assessment—a review of the value of nuclear weapons

and the related downside of losing that value.

The burden of proof is on those who now assert that adversaries

would be deterred reliably by US nonnuclear capabilities,

that allies similarly would be assured reliably by the same, that

opponents dutifully would follow the US example, and that the

United States could be confident they had done so. Considerable


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