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Miscalculated Ambiguity: The Effects of US Nuclear Declaratory Policy on Deterrence and Nonproliferation

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Technical Report

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Air University, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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This study analyzes how the new nuclear declaratory policy, espoused in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, balances the goals of deterrence and nonproliferation. The author concludes that increasing complexity in the nuclear arena makes reliance on the legacy policy of calculated ambiguity both increasingly hazardous for deterrence and decreasingly effective as a nonproliferation tool. These detrimental outcomes demand innovation in strategic thinking and revision of nuclear declaratory policy, specifically through adoption of a sole-purpose nuclear policy. Employed in the assessment of the new policy is a multiple methodological approach using historical, theoretical and practical frameworks. This study undertakes an appraisal of historic deterrence policies and nonproliferation initiatives exposing the essential elements of each. Building off these assessments, a comparative analysis of the new policy, dubbed Lead-but-Hedge, and a sole-purpose policy illuminates the strengths and shortfalls of each. Finally, the author examines the strategic consequences of the new policy on the nuclear decision-making of allies Japan, competitors India, and rivals Iran. The inquiry finds that in an era of salient WMD threats, it is necessary to communicate more directly the risks and consequences associated with WMD use against the US and its interests. Adoption of a sole-purpose policy by the US best accomplishes this goal while balancing the requirements of deterrence, on the one hand, and the Obama administrations top priority of nonproliferation on the other.

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