Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


• US defense planners should anticipate continuing nuclear

threats by Moscow in response to foreign policy developments

that are not entirely to the liking of the Russian


• For the foreseeable future, Moscow will continue to possess

the ability to threaten directly the United States and

US allies with a large, diverse nuclear force. Moscow will

continue to rely on its nuclear force, in part, to compensate

for the weakness of its general-purpose forces.

• If Moscow continues to brandish its nuclear arsenal as it has

over the past several years, it is conceivable that Russia could

find itself in a conflict on its borders that it cannot resolve

with diplomacy or conventional forces. An overextended Russia

that believes its own harsh rhetoric and relies heavily on

nuclear weapons should be a serious concern.

• US planners should anticipate such behavior and work with

allies to develop a strategy that discourages Russian provocations

and assures both older and newer NATO allies.

Sustaining the Credibility

of the US Nuclear Force

In addition to the three challenges for extended deterrence in

the contemporary environment discussed above, one additional

problem is important to consider—uncertainty among allies regarding

the long-term US commitment to sustain an effective

and credible nuclear force. Both allies and potential adversaries

carefully watch developments in the United States. Since

the end of the Cold War, the United States has reduced the size

of its operationally deployed strategic nuclear force by almost

80 percent and has retired and dismantled most of its nonstrategic

nuclear warheads. In sharp contrast with the other

nuclear powers recognized by the Non-Proliferation Treaty

(Russia, Britain, France, and China), the United States has not

implemented a nuclear modernization plan for a nuclear force

appropriate for the twenty-first century. Foreign observers of

US politics will note the high-profile debates over studies of

nuclear weapon concepts and the termination of such recent


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