Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press


value of a nuclear capability is determined more by opponent

and allied perceptions of it than by US employment plans.

The Apparent Value of

Nuclear Weapons for Deterrence

Whether or not nuclear weapons are considered useful for

combat missions or have been asked for by military commanders,

a quick review of available evidence points toward their

potentially unique value for deterrence and assurance. For example,

in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq launched 88 conventionally

armed Scud missiles against targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia;

those missile strikes continued until the end of the war. In

Israel and the United States, there was concern that Iraq would

use chemical weapons. 9 The anticipation of such attacks led

Israeli citizens to take shelter in specially sealed rooms and to

wear gas masks. Although Iraq did not employ chemical or biological

warheads, Scud strikes directly inflicted more than 250

Israeli casualties and were indirectly responsible for a dozen

deaths, including children, resulting from the improper use of

gas masks. 10 UN officials have stated that Iraqi bombs and missiles

contained enough biological agents to kill hundreds of

thousands, 11 and US officials have confirmed that if Iraq had

used available biological weapons, the military and civilian casualty

levels could have been horrific. 12

Saddam Hussein was neither a philanthropist nor particularly

humane. Why then did he not use the available chemical

or biological weapons? Was he deterred by the prospect of nuclear

retaliation? Israeli commentators frequently suggest that

the apparent Israeli nuclear threat deterred Iraqi chemical use.

In this regard it should be noted that during a CNN interview on

2 February 1991, US defense secretary Dick Cheney was asked

about the potential for Israeli nuclear retaliation to Iraqi chemical

strikes. Secretary Cheney observed that this would be a decision

that ‘‘the Israelis would have to make—but I would think

that [Hussein] has to be cautious in terms of how he proceeds

in his attacks against Israel.” The following day, when asked

about Secretary Cheney’s statement, Israeli defense minister

Moshe Arens replied, “I think he said that Saddam has reasons


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