Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century

Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century
    Book Description:

    Deterrence remains a primary doctrine for dealing with the threat of nuclear weapons in the 21st century. The author reviews the history of nuclear deterrence and calls for a renewed intellectual effort to address the relevance of concepts such as first strike, escalation, extended deterrence, and other Cold War-era strategies in today's complex world of additional superpowers, smaller nuclear powers, and nonstate actors.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-5944-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    James A. Thomson

    This book grew out of a conversation that Thérèse Delpech had with me on the margins of a conference in 2007. She was among France’s most prominent scholars, analysts, and officials dealing with security issues, especially nuclear weapons. In that conversation, she told me that she had long admired the work on deterrence that was done in the 1950s and 1960s, much of it at RAND in Santa Monica. She lamented the fact that she had not encountered the same level of reflection on today’s deterrence challenges. Of course, those challenges are different, she noted, than those of the time...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book recommends a renewed intellectual effort on nuclear deterrence. The reasons, spelled out in Chapter Two, are many, but the core principle is straightforward: As long as nuclear weapons are around, even in small numbers, deterrence is the safest doctrine to deal with them.³ This principle is easier to embrace in theory than it is to put into practice. This was true during the Cold War, and it appears to be even truer today: The actors are more diverse, more opaque, and sometimes more reckless. Since deterrence is a dynamic relationship among specific entities, nations, and leaders, this diversity,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Why Is This Subject Important?
    (pp. 9-22)

    Decades ago, Thomas Schelling spoke about “the retarded science of international security.”² For all his faith in reason and rationality, he knew all too well that the development of such a science was not only retarded, it would never exist. Since both the constant influx of new empirical data and the play of human freedom define history, any science on the subject would amount to a dangerous fiction. But lucid and articulate thinking has a crucial role to play in international relations.

    One of its most important tasks is to keep humanity within the boundaries of acceptable historical experiences.³ Sixty-seven...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Concepts
    (pp. 23-60)

    Nuclear weapons have a peculiar relationship to thinking. Their (fortunately) abstract nature since August 1945 and their lack of “visibility” since the end of atmospheric tests make them special in this respect. As the late Michael Quinlan stated, “We have no empirical data beyond 1945 about how events may run if nuclear weapons are used.”² Unlike tanks or aircraft, the impact of nuclear weapons on international security is mainly about ideas. To a large extent, nuclear military power is a thinking experiment, and nuclear war a war of thoughts.

    This was understood early on in the nuclear age. The large...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Lessons from Crises
    (pp. 61-92)

    The role of the nuclear factor in international crises since 1946 is all too commonly underestimated, even among the community of specialists. A reexamination of the period since World War II made possible by many declassified documents, especially from the United States, shows just how mistaken that perception is. Tentative steps—sometimes cunning, sometimes blundering, now subtle and then blustering—to translate nuclear capabilities into effective deterrence, compellence, or blackmail are in fact present in a variety of crises that hold a series of lessons for international security in the 21st century.

    Granted, nuclear deterrence does not operate only when...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Age of Small Powers
    (pp. 93-114)

    Henry Kissinger reportedly regretted posing this question at a press conference following the conclusion of the SALT agreement. He explained later that he was tired and somehow lost his temper. An opponent like the Soviet Union, he acknowledged, would certainly know what to do with strategic superiority. Be that as it may, the statement, perhaps questionable during the Cold War, appears highly relevant today, in a world of asymmetric force and asymmetric attacks. Strategic superiority is all the more questioned at the beginning of the 21st century as Western nations appear to be among the first to doubt the importance...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Ahead of Us: The Big Piracy Game?
    (pp. 115-140)

    In the interwar period of the 20th century, there was a feeling that great powers would play a less important role in world affairs:

    After the First World War it was possible to believe that the Great Powers had lost something of their former primacy in the international system, because of the multiplication of small states on the principle of nationality and the new attempt to constitutionalize international politics through the League of Nations.³

    This situation did not last: In the 1930s, the great powers came back on the world scene with renewed vigor.

    There may be a lesson worth...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Space and Cyberdeterrence
    (pp. 141-158)

    Since the late 1940s, most works on deterrence have been dedicated to nuclear weapons associated with conventional means such as aircraft, ships, and tanks (conventional deterrence having been part of the overall deterrence doctrine all along, particularly in the United States). Today, deterrence faces a broader spectrum of challenges, and space and cyberspace are among them. Both domains have gained a new prominence and deserve serious attention. To mention only two recent examples, China demonstrated its ability to destroy satellites in January 2007,³ and in October 2010 the Stuxnet cyberworm affair inaugurated the era of major sabotage operations directed at...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 159-164)

    In 1956, Paul Nitze made an interesting analogy between a nuclear world and a chessboard.¹ He wrote that even though the atomic queens may never be brought into play, their position may still have a decisive bearing on which side can safely advance a limited-war bishop or a Cold War pawn. More than 50 years later, this may still be true. But while he had in mindmainlyU.S. and Soviet atomic queens, with an advantage on the American side, the reality in the 21st century may be essentially about the shadow of America’s adversaries’ atomic queens.

    In the United...

  13. References
    (pp. 165-180)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 181-182)